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Saudi May Boost Heavy-Oil Reserves With Steam-WSJ

Source: Reuters 7/9/2006, Location: Middle East

Chevron Corp. and Saudi oil officials say initial results from a pilot project to tap heavy crude reserves by injecting steam are promising and could boost the kingdom's estimated reserves by "tens of billions" of barrels, The Wall Street Journal said on Monday.

Earlier this year, Chevron began injecting steam in a neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to loosen sludge-like heavy oil that was previously deemed unrecoverable, the newspaper said.

The trial, which Chevron plans to expand to additional wells, is a critical test of Saudi Arabia's heavy-oil potential, the Journal reported. Oil from the zone, known as Wafra, is shared equally by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The effort to tap the heavy crude could significantly increase Saudi Arabia's oil reserves over the next several years and ease tight energy markets. The world's biggest oil producer claims about 260 billion barrels of reserves, nearly a quarter of the world's total, according to the BP Statistical Review.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said many heavy-oil fields in his country are not included in its official tally. If steam injection works, it would add "tens of billion of barrels" to Saudi reserves, Naimi told the Journal.

Chevron has used steam injection for decades to boost output from heavy-oil fields in California and Indonesia. The Saudis and Chevron want to see if the technique will work in the more porous rock formations common in Middle East.

In addition to Wafra, the Saudis are considering using steam injection at the gigantic Manifa field, believed to have a large dose of heavy oil, the newspaper said.

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