Ali Shafiei

School of Mining and Geosciences
Assistant Professor

Dr. Ali Shafiei is currently an Assistant Professor of Petroleum Engineering in the School of Mining and Geosciences, Nazarbayev University. He obtained his Ph.D. (March 2013) in “Thermal Heavy Oil Recovery and Petroleum Reservoir Geomechanics” from the University of Waterloo in Canada with a dissertation on: “Mathematical and Statistical Investigation of Steamflooding in Naturally Fractured Carbonate Heavy Oil Reservoirs”. The focus of his Ph.D. research project was on developing mathematical and statistical tools to predict the performance of steamflooding in naturally fractured heavy oil reservoirs as one of the very challenging classes of reservoirs in terms of reservoir behavior considering the complex production mechanisms involved and the interaction between the rock matrix and the fracture network. He also holds a BSc in Applied Earth Sciences from the Bu-Ali Sina University in Iran. Dr. Shafiei has worked in different countries and various positions as Assistant Professor, Research Associate, Postdoctoral Fellow, and Consultant of petroleum engineering and geomechanics prior to joining the Nazarbayev University in September 2017.

Dr. Shafiei is a specialist in reservoir characterization and formation evaluation, heavy oil recovery from complex reservoir systems, Enhanced Oil Recovery, and petroleum geomechanics aspects of energy exploitation from conventional and unconventional energy resources (ground subsidence, hydraulic fracturing, fracture characterization, geological geomechanical assessment of oilfields, and industrial and municipal waste disposal through deep injection into sedimentary basins). Dr. Shafiei has over a decade of Canadian and international research, graduate supervision, teaching, training, and consulting/industry experience in the petroleum Exploration & Production (E&P) industry. He was a scientific adviser to the Alberta Department of Energy (Alberta, Canada) in 2014 served as a member of the Innovative Energy Technology Program (IETP 2014) to review progress reports on various full scale field trials that the Alberta DoE was involved with various oil and gas companies in Canada on heavy oil recovery and geological CO2 sequestration. He has also delivered keynote speeches in conferences, the most recent one being a keynote talk on “Thermal Enhanced Oil Recovery from Carbonate Reservoirs” in InterPore 2017. Dr. Shafiei is also a long time active member of the SPE, AAPG, and EAGE.

Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) where Dr. Shafiei spent most of his graduate and postdoctoral studies is the technology hub and home to innovation and several high tech firms in Canada. Waterloo is known as the “Silicon Valley” of Canada. The University of Waterloo is home to Velocity, one of the largest free startup incubators in the world. In harmony with the spirit of Waterloo, Dr. Shafiei found his startup company in May 2010. The company primarily offers consulting services in the upstream petroleum industry. It also offers workshops and short courses in 10+ technical topics ranging from 1 day to several days in duration to professionals working in the oil and gas industry. Until now, hundreds of professionals in over 10 different countries in 3 different continents have benefited from these training programs. In Fall 2016, the company launched its “soft skills” short courses and workshops program, a new initiative aiming at addressing need for professional training in academic matters enabling early career young scientists, graduate students, researchers, and professionals to effectively write and publish scholarly publications and prepare technical reports.

Current Research Interests

Owing to his interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary academic and professional background and experiences, Dr. Shafiei’s main areas of research interests includes, but not limited to, the following major areas:

Petroleum Reservoir Characterization: where data and techniques from Petrophysics (i.e., full site log, NMR, image logs), Geosciences, Rock Mechanics, Structural Geology, Geophysics, and Well-Logging are utilized to understand and characterize complex petroleum reservoir systems and build models which can be used to accurately assess and optimize hydrocarbon production potential from a target reservoir and predict the performance and behavior of the reservoir with high confidence and minimal time and cost. Core analysis including both RCAL and SCAL. The image in the left is a well log and the one in the right side is a 3D model of distribution of effective porosity in a reservoir. 


Petroleum Reservoir Geomechanics: which is the application of Rock Mechanics and Geoscience in the upstream E&P activities involving changes in in situ earth stresses, injection/production of hot/cold fluids, fracturing of rocks, reactivation of faults, well bore stability, drilling and earth stresses, pore pressure prediction (PPP), thermal reservoir geomechanics, caprock integrity assessment, design of hydraulic fractures, drilling at great depth and harsh environments, induced seismicity, sanding and sand control, ground subsidence due to withdrawal of fluids, genesis and properties of natural fractures, mechanics of deep solid waste disposal, and geomechanical impacts of sequestration of carbon dioxide in sedimentary basins. The image in the left side is an InSAR (Interferometric synthetic-aperture radar) satellite image of a SAGD (Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage) operation in Alberta, Canada, showing the surface heave above the thermal operation as result of thermal geomechanics effects. The image in the right is a schematic view of thermally induced shearing in sandstone.

Heavy Oil Recovery: Viscous oil (i.e., heavy oil, extra heavy oil, and bitumen) can be defined as all oils with in situ viscosities > 100 centi-Poise. Technologies required to exploit heavy oil differ from conventional oil production practices due to low oil mobility under reservoir conditions, chemistry of the heavy oil (i.e., larger organic molecules and higher asphaltene content), and the recovery mechanisms involved. The world endowment of Viscous Oil is estimated at 7-11 Trillion barrels. Canada is the world leader in technology development for Viscous Oil production and it is the only nation in the world that more than 50% of its oil production comes from Viscous Oil resources mainly located at the borderland between the provinces of Alberta and the Saskatchewan. Viscous Oil is currently responsible for production of 7-10 Million barrels of the total daily world oil production. This figure is expected to grow in the decades to come as the world is running out of cheap conventional oil (the decline rate of conventional oil reservoirs is about 6-8% per annum). Dr. Shafiei’s research covers various topics in heavy oil recovery and characterization of heavy oil reservoirs (i.e., reservoir characterization and appropriate production technology selection for the Karazhanbas heavy oilfield in Kazakhstan), resource estimation, reservoir characterization, developing screening criteria, investigation of recovery mechanisms, recovery techniques, reservoir simulation tools development, and technological, economic, and environmental challenges related to the Viscous Oil industry. The images in the upper row from left to right show a very simplified and schematic plan view and profile view of vertical well steamflooding in a naturally fractured heavy oil reservoir, respectively. The image in the left side of the second row shows a simple numerical model developed to simulate reservoir performance due to steamflooding via using a vertical well. The image in right side the lower row is a conceptual model for thermal geomechanics effects during thermal heavy oil recovery from naturally fractured carbonate reservoirs.

EOR/IOR: Much of the oil is left in the oil reservoirs after primary stage of production in a reservoir’s life when the reservoir is depleted and has ran out of its natural energy (i.e., compaction drive, gas cap drive, water drive) to enable flow of the hydrocarbon into the production well at desired rates. Enhanced Oil Recovery, which nowadays is used alternatively along with Improved Oil Recovery (IOR was used to describe only waterflooding and gas injection as secondary oil recovery techniques in the past), constitutes all techniques and technologies developed to encourage flow of hydrocarbons in porous media and improve the hydrocarbon recovery efficiency. Most of the giant oilfields on earth are now in their secondary or tertiary stage of production life, which requires effective and efficient EOR/IOR plans to maintain or enhance the oil production and maximize the recovery factor. Dr. Shafiei’s focus of EOR/IOR research is on investigation of various aspects of both non-thermal and thermal techniques such as waterflooding and steam processes in sandstone reservoirs (clastic), fractured carbonates, and oil sands. Application of nanomaterials in EOR approaches to improve the efficiency of oil recovery.

Petroleum Geoscience: Petroleum geoscience plays a crucial role in shaping our understanding of the many elements (aka the petroleum system) contributing to the formation of sedimentary basins, a habitat for hydrocarbons, and generation of hydrocarbons from organic matter over geologic time. A proper understanding of the petroleum system (i.e., origin, genesis, properties, migration, and entrapment of the hydrocarbons plus evolution of porosity and permeability) can led to a more realistic assessment of a potential hydrocarbon play. Petroleum Geoscience studies can help with optimum development and management of hydrocarbon reservoirs in terms of resource estimation, rock and fluid properties characterization, identifying the geological elements controlling the oilfield (geometry), reservoir quality assessment, building whole earth models (static reservoir models), reservoir description, reservoir characterization, design of optimum drilling programs, optimum field development planning, and appropriate production technology and strategy selection. Dr. Shafiei is interested in various aspects of the petroleum system, petroleum geological studies, carbonate geology, origin of oil, and thermal and burial reconstruction of sedimentary basins (Basin Analysis and Modeling), and petroleum exploration techniques.

Artificial Intelligence in E&P: Owing to the highly complex nature of the geological systems in terms of the processes involved, properties and characteristics of the rock and fluid systems, and complexity of the fluid flow in such systems, there is always a great deal of uncertainty involved in characterisation of the rock and fluid properties and prediction of performance of different mechanisms involved in hydrocarbon production. Obtaining enough and representative samples of reservoir fluids and rocks is also very challenging, costly, and time consuming. So often, at the very early stages of reservoir characterization and development, data is scarce and generation of sufficient high quality data can be expensive and time intensive. Artificial Intelligence approaches can help lower the uncertainties associated with the nature of the materials from earth where a limited time and data is available. Dr. Shafiei conducts research on application of AI techniques for process understanding, developing quick reservoir ranking tools, and AI model optimization using various mathematical methods and novel algorithms. The image shows the architecture of a three layer artificial neural network model developed to predict cumulative steam to oil ratio (CSOR) and recovery factor (RF) in a steamflood project conducted in a naturally fractured heavy oil carbonate reservoir.

Other Research InterestsIn addition to the above-mentioned areas, Dr. Shafiei also conducts research on various aspects of reservoir monitoring tools development and application, leaky hydrocarbon wells (i.e., environmental impacts, policy, and enhanced approaches for well cementation and well abandonment practices), petroleum economics, E&P technology management, future of oil, emerging technologies, and energy policy.

Teaching and Courses

Dr. Shafiei is a very passionate lecturer and comes from a family of teachers. He has a great interest in developing and teaching courses, psychology of learning and teaching process, and is interested in using innovations in teaching and evaluation methods. He holds a Certificate in University Teaching, awarded by the University Of Waterloo Center for Teaching Excellence in 2013 through completion of a series of workshops on various aspects of university teaching, course development, exam design, evaluation strategies and techniques, and technical and scientific proposal writing.

He has developed and taught 10+ undergraduate and graduate courses in various topics and disciplines (not including professional training short courses or workshops for the E&P industry) in various universities in the past 17 years. In addition, he has extensive experience in developing curriculum for Petroleum Engineering, equipping labs, and program accreditation process.

Here is a partial list of courses:

  • Introduction to Petroleum Engineering
  • Reservoir Fluid Properties
  • Adv/Reservoir Rock Properties (Petrophysics)
  • Adv/Reservoir Engineering
  • Adv/Petroleum Geology
  • Adv/Well Logging and Formation Evaluation
  • Adv/Reservoir Characterization
  • Adv/Formation Damage
  • Adv/Reservoir Geomechanics
  • Adv/Petroleum Economics
  • Heavy Oil Resources and Recovery
  • Fluid Flow through Porous Media
  • Reservoir Management
  • Research Methods for Grad Students

Service Work: Dr. Shafiei is a very active member of the scientific community. He is a Member of Editorial Board for many journals. He is currently Associate Editor of the Open Petroleum Engineering Journal. Dr. Shafiei also acts as a reviewer or referee for 37 international peer-reviewed journals including several top rank journals. He peer-reviews about 30-40 manuscripts per year. His verified record of editorial and peer-review activities is available publically through Publons. He has reviewed a record number of 60 manuscripts in the past 12 month (since November 2016) placing him as the overall second top reviewer among all of the NU faculty members registered on Publons. He is also among the top 1% of all of the reviewers regardless of discipline registered on Publons (175,000 active reviewers by November 2017).

Graduate Studies Opportunities: A number of graduate research projects (both MSc and PhD levels) are available which fit the background of top students from various disciplines such as, but not limited to, Petroleum Engineering, Petroleum Geoscience, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Rock Mechanics/Mining Engineering.