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Investigation of Heavy Oil Reservoir Uncovers Upside Potential, Leading to Successful Sale

US / 2017 / Reservoir Characterization

A private U.S. upstream operating company retained Sproule to investigate reservoir depletion mechanisms, thermal recovery processes, and optimum steamflood pattern configurations for the Cat Canyon Field on the central coast of California.

Project Highlights

  • Cat Canyon Field was discovered in 1908, and after 100 years of production, significant oil remains in place
  • Very heavy 7-11 degree API crude oil is found in multiple sandstone units of the Sisquoc formation from 2,000 – 3,000 ft. depths
  • Over the years, operators have employed various thermal recovery technologies, cyclic steaming, pilot steamflooding and SAGD to stimulate and facilitate oil production


  • The high viscosity and low API gravity characteristics of the crude oil make it difficult to produce the wells by any means other than thermal recovery methods.
  • Based on historical field experience, only 15 percent of the original oil in place will be recovered by cyclic steam stimulation. Ultimate oil recovery from applying steamflood displacement, on the other hand, is estimated to be as high as 40-50 percent.
  • Operators conducted three steamflood pilots in the 1966-1986 time period but only one was considered successful. Questions arose about what factors contributed to success versus failure for these pilots.


  • Sproule constructed a 3D thermal simulation model of the previous successful steamflood pilot and calibrated the model to the observed pilot performance. Modeling revealed key information about the pilot results and the applicable rock and fluid properties for the reservoir.
  • The calibrated model was re-positioned to a new project area and initialized for the current reservoir conditions (saturations and pressures). Sproule ran forecast cases for a 9-pattern steamflood to address the study objectives concerning pattern size, pattern orientation, injection rates and production forecasts.
  • The model allowed for investigation of oil recovery vs cumulative steam injection for different pattern orientations/sizes and an economic analysis applying existing economic conditions.


  • The client used the Sproule simulation study as part of a sales package to market the upside potential of its leases in this field. A breakeven oil price was determined for the predicted oil production from the pattern steamflood.
  • This work contributed to the successful sale of the company’s ownership of the properties to outside investors.

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Alan Burzlaff, P.E.
Senior Manager, Engineering

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