Reserve growth is recognized as a major component of additions to reserves in most oil provinces around the world, particularly in mature provinces. It takes place as a result of the discovery of new pools/reservoirs and extensions of known pools within existing fields, improved knowledge of reservoirs over time leading to a change in estimates of original oil-in-place, and improvement in recovery factor through the application of new technology, such as enhanced oil recovery methods, horizontal/multilateral drilling, and 4D seismic.

A reserve growth study was conducted on oil pools in Alberta, Canada, with the following objectives: 1) evaluate historical oil reserve data in order to assess the potential for future reserve growth; 2) develop reserve growth models/functions to help forecast hydrocarbon volumes; 3) study reserve growth sensitivity to various parameters (for example, pool size, porosity, and oil gravity); and 4) compare reserve growth in oil pools and fields in Alberta with those from other large petroleum provinces around the world.

The reported known recoverable oil exclusive of Athabasca oil sands in Alberta increased from 4.5 billion barrels of oil (BBO) in 1960 to 17 BBO in 2005. Some of the pools that were included in the existing database were excluded from the present study for lack of adequate data. Therefore, the known recoverable oil increased from 4.2 to 13.9 BBO over the period from 1960 through 2005, with new discoveries contributing 3.7 BBO and reserve growth adding 6 BBO. This reserve growth took place mostly in pools with more than 125,000 barrels of known recoverable oil. Pools with light oil accounted for most of the total known oil volume, therefore reflecting the overall pool growth. Smaller pools, in contrast, shrank in their total recoverable volumes over the years. Pools with heavy oil (gravity less than 20° API) make up only a small share (3.8 percent) of the total recoverable oil; they showed a 23-fold growth compared to about 3.5-fold growth in pools with medium oil and 2.2-fold growth in pools with light oil over a fifty-year period. The analysis indicates that pools with high porosity reservoirs (greater than 30 percent porosity) grew more than pools with lower porosity reservoirs which could possibly be attributed to permeability differences between the two types.

Reserve growth models for Alberta, Canada, show the growth at field level is almost twice as much as at pool level, possibly because the analysis has evaluated fields with two or more pools with different discovery years. Based on the models, the growth in oil volumes in Alberta pools over the next five-year period (2006–2010) is expected to be about 454 million barrels of oil.

Over a twenty-five year period, the cumulative reserve growth in Alberta oil pools has been only 2-fold compared to a 4- to- 5-fold increase in other petroleum producing areas such as Saskatchewan, Volga-Ural, U.S. onshore fields, and U.S. Gulf of Mexico. However, the growth at the field level compares well with that of U.S. onshore fields. In other petroleum provinces, the reserves are reported at field levels rather than at pool levels, the latter basically being the equivalent of individual reservoirs.

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