Keeping up with SiGNa
Greg Romney discusses industry readiness for new, breakthrough enhanced oil recovery (EOR) solutions
October 25, 2016
Greg, you came to SiGNa with many years of experience in the oil and gas (O&G) industry. Can you talk a little about your background, and how it applies to your current role?
I have a 30-year history in oil and gas, beginning in 1981 when I joined Texaco’s upstream operations as a mechanical engineer. I spent some time in midstream operations, in pipeline operations and power generation. Then in the mid-90s, I was assigned to Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies to manage Texaco’s offshore oil operations, which were in partnership with Trinidad’s national Oil Company.
About that time, Texaco became very interested in the future of energy and formed a new company to look at the development of fuel cells, hydrogen, advanced batteries and solar technologies. I was one of the original vice presidents of that venture company, and had my first experience with start-ups, clean technology and bringing new technologies to market. It was very dynamic and exciting to take such a long view on how technology might significantly change an entire industry.
After Texaco and Chevron merged, I took a job with Cabot Corporation, the specialty materials company, where I focused on developing new business in Energy Materials. Our technologies broadly spanned the industry, including advanced batteries and fuel cells.
My current role at SiGNa is to help the leadership team commercialize SiGNa’s novel chemistries into the oil and gas space. This includes forming partnerships with key oil producers, focusing on the right early adopters, and assisting with field trials for SiGNa’s products.
What are some of the challenges you’ve seen when bringing new technologies to market?
Bringing the right people together – and building the right partnerships – to overcome the hurdles of commercialization is one of the most important challenges an entrepreneurial, high-tech growth company will face.
Another challenge with bringing new products and technologies to market, especially as it relates to chemistry, is that your first product will always have certain attributes that are based on the original market you invented the technology to address. A lot of times, however, that initial application set changes.
As it relates to SiGNa, the company wanted to take its original technology and understand how this clean, portable source of heat and pressure (using naturally-occurring starting materials) could translate into large market applications. Ideally, they looked for customer pain points that didn’t have an alternative solution, and they didn’t want to extensively re-engineer the product for an early market fit. We found an ideal fit in post-Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand (CHOPS) wells, and began our initial rollout into Western Canada.
Canada’s oil and gas industry has a long history of engaging in and adopting innovative and new technologies, as the rest of the world watches the results that Canada produces. In addition to their comfort with early adoption, Canadian producers also have a major pain point, in that there are tens of thousands of CHOPS wells that produce less than 10% of their oil reserves over their lifetime (This is compared to conventional heavy oil wells in the rest of the world that produce around 25% of their reserves). Due to the rock formation in these Canadian wells – and the natural ‘worm-holes’ that develop during production – common technologies like steam do not increase the yield in CHOPS wells. SiGNa’s ActiveEOR® product, however, has the ability to reach deeper into these rock formations and chemically create the heat and pressure that are needed to increase the production of oil.
So, what’s happening in Canada now with ActiveEOR®?
In our earliest field trials, we focused on safety and successfully injecting materials down-hole. As SiGNa ramped its commercial experience and scale, our initial focus on post-CHOPS wells in Canada gave us a good understanding of the technology within a short time. Under the best pilot conditions, field trialing relies on extensive computer numerical modeling, which also enables you to learn at a tremendous rate.
Now that we’ve proven we can reliably and safely inject, our current phase involves injecting ActiveEOR® into wells with different characteristics, such as: age of well; production levels before treatment; and specific O&G formations. We are gaining a better understanding of how to optimize injection treatments for particular wells, like optimum treatment quantities (what’s too much or too little) and how frequently we should treat any given well.
With these results, it is quite straightforward for operators to move ahead with adopting the technology. There are no real capital investments required for facilities upgrades, as conventional equipment can be used with no further modification to the wells.
I think it’s safe to say that SiGNa’s technology is being closely watched by the major operators of CHOPS-type wells in Western Canada that aren’t already involved.
Are there other market applications SiGNa is looking at, in addition to post-CHOPS?
There are other CHOPS-types of wells, in places like China, Venezuela, Romania and Russia, so geographical expansion will be a significant short-term opportunity.
Also there are many other heavy oil applications that we feel are naturally suited for this technology, especially where challenges exist with secondary recovery. Heavy oil is more and more becoming a predominant source of fuel around the world, and its recovery is much lower than people would like to see. Some of the wells may be too deep or thin for traditional EOR solutions, like steam, but with chemically-produced heat, depth doesn’t really matter, which makes a solution like ActiveEOR® a perfect fit.
As we use this material in the post-CHOPS environment, we’re learning a lot about what else ActiveEOR® can do in other oil applications.
Ultimately, we may be required to make adjustments to the product, or tailor how it’s being injected into different sorts of formations, but that will just help us expand this growing portfolio of heavy oil solutions.
What does SiGNa look like five years from now?
Five years from now, I see SiGNa as a major supplier and market leader in post-CHOPS EOR. The technology commercialization is already well underway. I also think SiGNa will be playing in non-post CHOPS markets and other applications, such as chemical flooding, asphaltene/paraffin removal, and fracturing. Five years is plenty of time to develop this innovative technology, go through the proofing cycle, and grow into other segments of the EOR market.