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There are no quick fixes to long-term energy challenges. To find solutions, governments and industry benefit from sharing resources and accelerating results. For this reason the IEA enables independent groups of experts - the Energy Technology Initiatives, or ETIs1.

Enhanced Oil Recovery

Effects of low-salinity enhanced oil recovery in a sandstone core.*

Lower salt intake: increase output

Policy context
Global energy demand is expected to rise by over one-third in the period to 2035, underpinned by rising living standards in China, India and current energy policies in the Middle East. Yet by 2030, the majority of oil reserves will be produced from fields yet to be developed, fields yet to be found and additional enhanced oil recovery techniques. In most fields, less than 50% of oil is recoverable using conventional technology. Worldwide, only 30% to 35% of the oil underground will be produced according to present plans and technologies. Advanced techniques and technologies exist but in many cases they are not cost efficient. Given the significant additional amounts of oil recoverable and the need to meet future demand, policies and measures designed to provide incentives to industries and continued support for public R&D in this area will be needed. 

The objectives of the ETI focusing on enhanced oil recovery (EOR) are to stimulate national efforts to continue to develop less costly EOR technologies as well as to research new technologies. This is achieved through an open forum for information and knowledge exchange. There are currently 11 Contracting Parties, including Russia and Venezuela.

EOR plays an important role for the international R&D community by organising international symposiums that assess state-of-the-art technical capabilities of oil exploration engineering which lay the groundwork for practical applications of enhanced oil recovery. The EOR Workshop and Symposium of 2010 focussed on the Enhanced Oil Recovery Technique of Low-salinity Waterflooding.

Injecting high-saline water (seawater) into oil reservoirs maintains the pressure and drives the crude oil towards the producer wells. However, as salt is a conductor of electricity, it creates electrical charges that react with the rock reservoir walls, resulting in a magnetic effect. As oil adheres to the rock walls, the quantity of oil that can be recovered is reduced. However, by using low-salinity water the amount of electrical charge is lowered. The oil is then more easily liberated from the rock, allowing ever more oil to be recovered.

It is estimated that using the low-salinity technique will make it possible to recover an additional 6 billion barrels of crude oil from mature fields in the North Sea, equivalent to 42 million barrels of oil more than could otherwise be obtained from seawater flooding. Considerable further potentials may exist in other mature oil fields worldwide.

The 2010 EOR workshop acted as a catalyst, raising much interest among oil and gas multinational enterprises and government,  which ultimately led to  creation of a public-private partnership in the North Sea.

The 2011 EOR Symposium focused on ‘Enhanced oil recovery at USD 80+ per barrel’, while the 2012 EOR workshop and symposium looked at ‘CO2-enhanced oil recovery techniques’. 

Graph courtesy of Jonathan Thomas. 


Current projects

  • Development of gas flooding techniques
  • Thermal recovery
  • Dynamic reservoir characterisation
  • Emerging technologies
  • Fundamental research on surfactants and polymers
  • Studies of fluids and interfaces in porous media

For more information:


1.Information or material of the IEA Energy Technology Initiatives, or ETIs (formally organised under the auspices of an Implementing Agreement), including information or material published on this website, does not necessarily represent the views or policies of the IEA Secretariat or of the IEA’s individual Member countries. The IEA does not make any representation or warranty (express or implied) in respect of such information (including as to its completeness, accuracy or non-infringement) and shall not be held liable for any use of, or reliance on, such information.