How Chevron Uses Technology to Tackle the World's Most Challenging Oil Projects

The average oil well is only able to produce 35% of the oil that was originally in place. That means oil companies are leaving billions of barrels of oil worth hundreds of billions of dollars just sitting in those reservoirs. The good news is that technological advances are helping companies improve those recoveries, which is making each well much more valuable than ever before.

Oil giant Chevron is just one of the many companies using technology to drive improvements in its oil recovery, though its commitment to technology runs deeper than most. Because the company focuses on extracting hard-to-reach oil, technology is absolutely critical to its business, especially in deepwater locations like the Gulf of Mexico. Initial recovery rates there can sometimes be less than 10%. However, by using technology Chevron can more than double the amount of oil that is ultimately recovered, which increases the value of each find.

The following slide from a recent investor presentation shows a sampling of just some of the technologies Chevron uses to extract more oil from deep-sea reservoirs.

Source: Chevron Investor Presentation (link opens a PDF)

Subsea systems like sea-floor pumps are a critical next step for companies that want to get more oil out of deep-sea wells. Technology companies like OneSubsea, which is a joint venture between Cameron and Schlumberger as well as FMC Technologies , are the leaders in the subsea space. These companies make the high-pressure, high-temperature systems that are key for the wells drilled in a mile or more of water that Chevron is drilling in locations such as the Gulf of Mexico.

One of FMC's Enhanced Vertical Deepwater Subsea Trees was used at the Perdido field project, which counts Chevron among its partners. The FMC tree holds the world record for the deepest subsea tree system, sitting beneath 9,600 feet, almost two miles, of water. Technologies like these withstand crushing water pressure so that more oil can be produced from these incredibly deep wells.

Cameron has also worked with Chevron to provide high-pressure, high-temperature systems. In fact, the company provided its latest technology to support the Jack/St. Malo development that should begin producing oil next year. However, while subsea systems are critical, they are just one example of how Chevron looks to technology to increase its oil production.

Chevron is also involved on the software side of technology. It has partnered with Schlumberger specifically to develop the Intersect next-generation reservoir simulator. Intersect allows operators to test a number of different scenarios in order to develop more effective development plans for an oil and gas field. Total has recently joined in development of the program, adding its engineering resources and expertise to expand the project.

Chevron's commitment to technology doesn't end there. The company's technology ventures arm is a venture capital operation that investst in emerging technologies with the potential to improve Chevron's performance. The branch currently has a portfolio of investments in 37 companies and recently launched its fifth fund to source its next generation of emerging oil-field technologies. Not only have the technologies developed through these investments added substantial earnings for the company, but they can help it solve some of its biggest technical challenges to extract more oil out of Chevron reservoirs.

As Chevron scours the world for oil it will rely even more heavily on technology. Some of that technology will be supplied by the likes of OneSubsea and FMC Technologies, but a growing portion will come from companies that Chevron helped to get off the ground through its venture capital arm. It's a good balance that ensures Chevron can continue leading the way to produce oil from ever more complex locations.

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Fool contributor Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron, FMC Technologies, and Total SA. (ADR). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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