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It is becoming more challenging to find large oil deposits, such that existing oilfields need to increase their current productivity to provide additional reserves to meet worldwide demand for oil.

In Australia, production from existing fields is in decline and the replacement rate from new discoveries is not sufficient to offset the depletion rate.

Therefore an important way to influence oil production, and hence Australia’s energy security, is by improving productivity of known oilfields through improved and enhanced methods. This requires the development and optimisation of Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) and Improved Oil Recovery (IOR) technologies tailored to the local situation.

Improving oil recovery

Primary recovery of oil from a reservoir usually only access 30 to 35 per cent of the original oil in place (OOIP).

Secondary recovery (i.e. waterflood) may net a further 15 to 25 per cent OOIP, a third to one-half of the oil in the reservoir.

Our research aims to increase the produced fraction of oil by developing methods that involve direct interaction with the fluids within the reservoir, or EOR methods.

Enhanced oil recovery methods compliment other strategies for boosting production such as improved well placement on time-lapse seismic (4-D seismic) and near wellbore flow controls, which are referred to as IOR techniques.

Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) methods are not suitable for all oil fields and must be targeted to specific situations, such as:

  • the geological context of the field
  • oil type
  • whether it is an onshore or offshore field
  • remoteness
  • size and nature of the porosity and permeability of the reservoir rocks.

In Australia, remoteness is a key issue and costs per barrel must be low for any EOR method to be viable. This rules out many energy or material-intensive EOR methodologies.

CSIRO has identified a number of focus areas involving researchers from petroleum geology and geochemistry, microbiology and genomics, petroleum engineering, physics and mathematics disciplines.

Gas and CO2 injection methods

Gas and CO2 injection methods

In Australia, remoteness is a key issue and costs per barrel must be low for any enhanced oil recovery method to be viable.

Natural gases are abundant in several Australian basins and these can be employed to improve recovery of more valuable liquid hydrocarbons.

In the case of CO2 rich gases, there is a further benefit of sequestering a gas that otherwise contaminates the natural gas product or is emitted as a greenhouse gas.

This is a strong motivation to study EOR schemes using gas such as supercritical CO2 miscible flooding and Carbon Dioxide-Water-Alternating Gas (CO2-WAG).

‘Smart water’

A second line of research involves modifying the chemical composition of the waterflood so that water-rock and water-oil electrochemical interactions favour the mobilisation of hydrocarbons trapped at the pore scale through short range surface forces or capillarity.

This method is also known as low salinity flooding or more imaginatively as ‘smart water’. The underlying science is based on colloid and interface chemistry, a discipline in which CSIRO has a strong track record.

Microbial enhanced oil recovery

Culturing microbes under aseptic conditions.

Microbial enhanced oil recovery (MEOR) focuses on using microorganisms to improve the recovery factor in reservoir. Certain types of indigenous or developed microbes can naturally produce products, such as polysaccharides and biosurfactants, which alter the mobility of the waterflood and modify interfacial tension and/or wetting in such a way that more oil is swept from the field.

Over the past four years CSIRO has developed broad skills and expertise in MEOR research through a joint project with a major national oil company.

Other enhanced oil recovery methods

CSIRO is also indirectly involved in researching other EOR methods such as alkaline-surfactant-polymer flooding through collaborations with Australian universities.

Benefits from our research

CSIRO’s research into enhanced oil recovery will help secure Australia’s energy future through:

  • Increasing and prolonging oil production from oil fields already discovered in Australia, benefiting local companies and economies.
  • Reducing reliance on imported oil, leading to improved balance of payments and more secure energy sources and transport fuels.
  • High value jobs in oil and gas sector.
  • Reducing environmental impact through permanent geological disposal of carbon dioxide.

Flow assurance: a smooth ride for oil and gas

Next generation flow assurance technologies are ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil and gas in subsea pipelines and access to previously stranded gas.

More than 80 per cent of Australia’s gas resources exist in deep, remote, offshore reservoirs. Our ability to realise their full potential relies on the development of economically viable solutions to access and transport them over long distances to on-shore processing facilities.

CSIRO scientists are developing subsea technologies for the production of gas resources which may lie as far as 300 km offshore, at a depth greater than 1 km. The Flow Assurance research program will deliver science-based engineering solutions to access to previously stranded gas reserves and ensure the uninterrupted flow of production fluids in subsea pipelines.

Our research

The research program includes development of:

Science-based engineering solutions are providing access to previously stranded gas reserves

  • compact systems to efficiently separate gas and  liquids
  • autonomous, remotely controlled robots to monitor well conditions and provide real time data
  • subsea infrastructure and pipeline design
  • technologies to repair sub-sea infrastructure
  • methods to prevent flow disruptions in sub-sea pipelines, particularly formation of gas hydrate crystals
  • designer fluids for enhanced oil recovery.

Accessing our huge reserves of deep water gas will significantly contribute to Australia’s energy security and assist the transition to a low emissions energy economy, providing real and sustained benefits to Australia.

Research project areas

One of the largest industry challenges in oil and gas recovery is water production and the economical and environmental issues associated with it.

CSIRO’s Flow Assurance research program is engineering methods to reduce the amount of water produced in petroleum production, and developing water management strategies.

CSIRO is also developing and improving technologies to optimise gas production and ensure efficient and secure transportation of production fluids from subsea reservoirs to on-shore processing facilities.

These technologies are focused on providing economical and efficient access to our large gas reserves in offshore locations.

The Flow Assurance program has projects in the areas of:



Designer fluids for enhanced oil recovery

Designer fluids are being developed to reduce water flow through the reservoir to limit the production of water without affecting the overall oil production. Novel chemical additives will offer new avenues for reducing water production which could lower the need for operational and capital expenses in gas and oil field developments.

Subsea gas-liquid separation

Wells in areas of high water saturation, naturally face a higher risk of water interfering with the hydrocarbon stream. Water influx contaminates and reduces gas flow and can accelerate the formation of gas hydrates. Removal and disposal of the produced water from the gas stream is extremely expensive, especially in remote deep water environments. CSIRO has developed a compact subsea and downhole gas-water separation system that allows liquids to be efficiently separated and re-injected directly back into the reservoir, further reducing water content.

Learn more about


Gas hydrates

Understanding the behaviour of hydrates can lead to greater efficiencies in the oil and gas industry.

Gas hydrates are ice-like crystals of gas and water that form readily at the high pressure and low temperature conditions. Gas hydrates are a major risk when transporting oil and gas in deep offshore pipelines.

The gas hydrates research program is focused on understanding:

  • how gas hydrates form and grow
  • hydrate inhibitors that prevent hydrate formation
  • dynamic behaviour of gas hydrate crystals in pipelines.

Downhole robots and subsea wireless networks

New technologies are being investigated to design subsea and downhole wireless monitoring systems that can monitor gas wells and communicate with the surface, without the need for umbilical cables for power and data transmission.

Remotely controlled downhole robots will be able to monitor pressure and flow rates, well conditions and identify where the water occurs from, providing real time data. Real time data transmissions will be used to update, modify and improve reservoir and well flow models to optimise gas production.

Subsea wireless networks, consisting of a series of fixed sensors that communicate to each other, are being developed to monitor pipelines and subsea systems. These networks will continuously inform operators of how subsea systems are performing and any malfunctions that pose an environmental or operational threat.

Subsea infrastructure and pipeline design

Research is optimising the design, operation and maintenance of subsea wells and extra-long subsea pipelines. Subsea infrastructure and pipelines need to withstand strong ocean currents, wave damage, seabed movement, seabed sloping and erosion. Improved modelling of pipeline design and operation will also reduce the potential for gas hydrates to form.

CSIRO are developing new materials to repair subsea oil and gas pipelines to reduce production downtime.

Subsea infrastructure repair

The oil and gas industry suffers large economic losses each year due to oil and gas pipelines succumbing to corrosion and other damaging processes they face in their harsh marine environment.

CSIRO are developing new materials to repair subsea oil and gas pipelines. These technologies will potentially reduce production downtime during pipeline repair, eliminate the need for underwater welding and increase the safety of repair processes.

Sand erosion minimisation

In addition to corrosion on pipelines, erosion by particulate matter (sand) on oil and gas pipelines and associated components also add to the cost of repairs and maintenance in this industry. CSIRO are developing physical and computational erosion models to assess the erosion characteristics of various oil and gas related equipment under particular flow scenarios. Information from this can be used to develop various sand control strategies to abate or minimise erosion on a particular pipeline or associated component.

Getting involved

For further information about CSIRO’s specific petroleum exploration research activities and capabilities along the entire petroleum exploration value chain, contact Seng Lim.

For additional information see the CSIRO brochures on:

Sand management

Sand Erosion

Sand production prediction


Enhanced oil recovery