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CASPER, Wyo. — A Colorado company wants to use steam to extract oil from a field between Rawlins and Lander.

Denver-based Richardson Operating will inject water steam into nine oil wells in the West Bison Basin field, a project area about 20 miles south of Sweetwater Station, and eventually plans to involve as many as 24 wells in a 20-year injection program. Injection should begin this summer.

Company president David Richardson Jr. said the area's remaining oil reserves and "tight" geology make it ideal for steam-driven extraction, otherwise rarely found in Wyoming. Initial company models show the $11 million project could increase oil production tenfold.

Richardson said the company will utilize a pipeline system to direct steam from its generator into the wells. The steam heats thick, heavy oil deposits in shallow and low-pressured wells, causing the oil to become more fluid and easier to extract.

"It will certainly be a big win for us," Richardson said. "It will indicate that there’s a lot of potential in the Rockies in areas that have had a long history of production, and there are still reservoirs out there that can be found."

The company plans to initially inject seven wells from a centrally-located steam generator. Richardson Operating could eventually cycle in another eight producing wells and later plans to drill another nine wells, all of which will likely be injected with steam.

The injection field will be just west of another company-owned field of about 40 oil wells.

The technique to be used is similar to steam-assisted gravity drainage, a technique used to extract bitumen, a hydrocarbon, from oil sands in Canada.

Richardson said the company has already received regulatory permission to inject its first 15 wells, but the Bureau of Land Management is reviewing the plan to drill nine new wells and install associated infrastructure.

The agency is also reviewing a plan to conduct a seismic survey of the area, contracted by Richardson and encompassing about 15 square miles.

Rick Vander Voet, Lander BLM office field manager, said the review process should take most of the summer. The agency took public comments on the proposal into late April.

Steam injection is considered a secondary oil recovery method, typically used after initial production from a well tapers off. Richardson said the Bison Basin project, for example, has produced oil for several years.

If the project is successful, the company could look to other aging fields, both in Wyoming and other states.

"It’s certainly something where if we can succeed with this, we’re going to be keeping our eyes open and be looking for other potential," Richardson said. "I think we will have an advantage looking at other fields having done this."

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