Responsible oil production in the Amazon
The Peruvian jungle is delicate, remote and inaccessible. How can you extract heavy crude oil, when demands on environmental protection, reliability and easy maintenance are so high?DATE 2023-11-28 AUTHOR DAVID NIKEL PHOTO PERENCO, GETTY
When new oil fields were discovered in one of the world’s most inaccessible locations deep within the Amazon in 2006 they were the first oil fields put into production in Peru in 30 years.
At Block 67, deep in the Peruvian Amazon, in one of the world’s most inaccessible locations, Perenco is extracting heavy crude oil, previously thought of as uneconomical as it is difficult to extract from the ground due to its viscosity. Once out of the ground, the heavy crude requires a lot of processing to be usable.
Perenco’s biggest challenge is to process the extracted material down to 1 percent water. Traditional methods, such as electrostatic and chemical treatments, with their requirements for space and heat, are not an option given the environment. The inspiration for the solution came via an unlikely source – the Oscar winning movie star Kevin Costner – and the equipment came from Alfa Laval.
TECHNICAL SOLUTION - Separating crude oil at Block 67
- Centrifuges have been used to separate oil and water for more than 100 years, but crude oil production is a new application.
- At Perenco’s Peru facility, the main separation process consists of four stages. The free water knockout removes the bulk of the free water from the stream before being further treated.
- The partly dehydrated liquid is heated and de-gassed before entering the disc-stack centrifuge.
- Rather than rely on chemicals, the centrifuge produces between 5,000-8,000G of centrifugal force to separate oil from water in a fraction of the time of traditional methods. The denser water collects around the periphery while the lighter oil remains in the core. Both substances are removed and the process continues.
4 facts about heavy crude oil
- Heavy crude oil is highly viscous and cannot easily flow to production wells.
- The density of crude oil is measured by API gravity, a scale from the American Petroleum Institute that measures how heavy or light a petroleum liquid is compared to water. The higher the API gravity, the lighter the crude.
- Any liquid petroleum with an API gravity of less than 20° is considered heavy crude oil.
- Separating oil from water is more difficult when the density difference between water and oil is low. Alfa Laval’s solution manages this without excess use of heat or chemicals.
More about the Alfa Laval solution
The Alfa Laval OFX 20 disc stack centrifuge system is specially designed to provide the oil industry with a highly efficient way to remove water and solids from heavy crude oil –
We are guests in the jungle. Nobody lives anywhere near Block 67 except a few indigenous communities. It’s virgin forest so we have a duty to minimize any disruption to the environment. Every decision is taken with a view to minimizing the footprint we leave behind.”
The system is very flexible and on occasions when we get some sand or sediment in the machinery, the operator is capable of fixing the problem and getting the machine back online within two hours.”