Denbury Resources works to get oil from depleted wells

Published 10:10 pm Saturday, January 5, 2008

NATCHEZ — Black gold is hiding in the rocks of Adams County. And a Texas-based company has figured out a way to coax the crude from its resting place. Denbury Resources is in the final construction stages of an oil recovery facility that has the potential to reduce America’s dependency on foreign oil.

The company’s Cranfield plant will utilize an oil production process that allows them to recover oil from depleted wells. The oil fields at the Cranfield site were discovered in the 1940s and oil production played out in the 1960s, said Gordon Moore, who oversees the construction of the Denbury facility.

“The original production got about 22 percent of the oil that’s there,” Moore said. “We aim to get about 17 percent out.”

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That 17 percent equates to 6,000 barrels of oil per day. There’s plenty of oil there, but getting it out is no easy task.

In order to remove the oil, the company injects carbon dioxide into the depleted wells. When the carbon dioxide comes in contact with the oil molecules, it reduces the viscosity and density of the oil.

“There are small molecules of oil in the rock that wouldn’t move when they originally produced here,” he said. “The carbon dioxide makes the oil lighter, so it moves easier. The lighter oil will then flow from the rock again.”

Once the oil starts to flow, the company will remove the carbon dioxide from the oil to get it ready for sale. The removed carbon dioxide will then be recycled back into their system to use again.

The facility will pipe in the carbon dioxide from a reservoir in Jackson. The plant will also purchase some carbon dioxide from the planned Rentech plant, which will be located in Natchez.

In order to accommodate the massive amounts of electricity needed to compress the carbon dioxide for use, a 16 megawatt electric power substation is being constructed on site.

The company acquired the Cranfield site in 2005 and construction is scheduled to be completed in the next two months. The facility should begin production in May, he said.

Denbury is the only company east of the Mississippi River utilizing this oil recovery process. They have seven oil fields in the state, making them the largest oil producer in Mississippi. Moore said Mississippi is one of only two states where oil production is not in decline.

“This is a very efficient process,” Moore said. “It is the preferred technique to use to bring old oil fields back to life.”

The $24.5 million facility totals about 7,800 acres and contains approximately 95 wells. Denbury will recondition most of those depleted wells and also drill new wells as needed, Moore said.

With oil reaching record-setting prices, Moore said the facility should be profitable for the company. He also said that the technology being used at the site is crucial to bringing domestic oil production back.

“Right now, about 150,000 barrels per day are recovered in Texas using this technology,” he said. “We should be able to recover about 18,000 barrels per day over our seven Mississippi fields.”

That’s 18,000 barrels of oil that won’t have to be purchased overseas. The company plans on employing about 13 individuals to operate the plant and Natchez-Adams County Development Authority Director Jeff Rowell is excited about adding jobs to the area.

“Not only direct, but the indirect economic impact from the project will be something else that will benefit the area,” he said. “Denbury is really moving along in Mississippi and we’re excited to have them in our area.”