May 25, 2004

Contact: Jill Hummels, School of Engineering, (785) 864-2934.

KU petroleum engineers help bring display to central Kansas museum

LAWRENCE -- The University of Kansas is giving schoolchildren who visit a Great Bend museum a view of oil collection 3,000 feet below ground.

The Tertiary Oil Recovery Project (TORP), based at the KU School of Engineering, has developed an interactive museum display for the Kansas Energy Education Center in Great Bend that demonstrates water flooding -- also called secondary recovery -- in an oil reservoir, said Richard Pancake, an engineer at TORP.

"It gives a three-dimensional perspective on how you bring the oil and water to the surface," Pancake said.

In primary oil recovery, oil producers allow natural reservoir pressure to push petroleum to the producing well. That process captures only 10 percent to 15 percent of the reservoir.

"With secondary recovery you inject water," he said. "The water will create an oil bank, and if you're lucky it will push an additional 10 to 15 percent of the oil to the well. You've basically doubled the life of the well."

As Kansas oil wells reach maturity, TORP's mission to develop new methods of recovering oil are becoming more critical to the Kansas oil and gas industry.

The museum display, built by TORP research assistant Scott Ramskill, lets museum visitors turn a crank that sets a miniature oil pump in motion. A cutaway view of the geological formation under the pump allows guests to see how the fluid is produced to the stock tanks on the surface.

The 1:24 scale display uses both new and recycled materials, Ramskill said. An old wooden desk rescued from the trash bin became the display frame after being re-cut and refinished. Recycled stainless steel fittings adorn the exhibit's hardware. Ramskill was able to construct the model in spare moments at work over the course of three months

"Once we got into it and it started coming together, we could see it was going to be nice," Pancake said.

Lawrence architect Cathy Clark created the artistic renderings of the geological rock formations found in central Kansas, with some guidance from Martin DuBois, a geologist with the Kansas Geological Survey, based at KU.

Ramskill is completing the display's finishing touches, which include creating a Plexiglas cover to protect the display's realistic fixtures and miniature signs for the Jayhawk Oil Co. Pancake hopes to deliver the display to Danny Biggs of the Kansas Energy Education Center by the end of May. Biggs was instrumental in getting TORP to provide the display, Pancake said.

"He wanted to expose local kids to all aspects of the energy business," he said.

Biggs asked TORP to develop a model "that would be something kids would find interesting and educational. He's a true advocate of the oil and gas industry," Pancake said.

The Tertiary Oil Recovery Project is sponsored by the State of Kansas to acquaint oil producers in the state with the technical and economic potential of enhanced recovery methods for Kansas fields.

Primary oil recovery (using existing reservoir energy) and secondary oil recovery (injection of water to force out oil) are able to remove approximately 30 percent of the total oil content of an oil reservoir. It is estimated that tertiary oil recovery techniques have the ability to remove an additional 5 percent to 20 percent of the oil remaining in the reservoir. Given the current world dependence on crude oil, the development of effective tertiary oil recovery strategies promises to have a significant economic impact.

In December 2003, TORP and the Kansas Geological Survey launched the most recent phase of oil recovery with a carbon dioxide flooding project near Russell. Though results won't be fully realized for several months, the project, if successful, could have a billion-dollar impact on the state's maturing oil fields.

KU offers the only petroleum engineering degree program in the state.

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