It’s an unconventional world

Remaining Relevant – Not a Problem!

EMD members live in an unconventional and alternative world.

Now that may not sound like a positive thing, but I beg to differ.

It’s a new year, with a new EMD Executive Committee and president, and there is renewed interest in unconventional and alternative energy resources. This sounds somewhat like an oxymoron (think tight sands, heavy gas or synthetic natural gas) in the sense that what we refer to as unconventional and alternative implies that in an EMD world what we do is out of the ordinary and maybe not even relevant.

Several things have happened over the past several years that are causing EMD to be of more value – or as I would say, “relevant” – as we look ahead.

A national political push away from the conventional to the unconventional and alternative energy resources is a primary factor.

In review of the Annual Energy Outlook 2011 with Projections to 2035 published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it is stated that:

  • Shale gas production will continue to increase strongly, almost four-fold from 2009 to 2035.
  • The United States continues as the world’s leader in coalbed gas exploration, booked reserves and production. With a major increase of shale gas production, coalbed methane production is anticipated to remain steady to 2035.
  • Tight gas sands currently represent about 25 percent of the U.S. annual gas production.
  • Oil sand (bitumen) commercial production more than doubled during the last decade, and is expected to steadily increase over the next decade.
  • Although not expected to play a significant role in global production for another decade, oil shale is projected to increase two to potentially five-fold over the next five years.

Looking toward the future in regard to the alternatives, coal remains a significant component of the world’s production and energy consumption, albeit recently dropping slightly from supplying about 50 percent of the U.S. electrical generation down to 47 percent.

Recent technological developments and advances in clean coal, underground gasification and coal-to-liquids technology are anticipated to expand our reliability and dependency on coal’s role in the energy mix.

Coal production and consumption are anticipated to rise, and currently coal accounts for over half of the total energy use in the United States – and coal production is projected to increase by 21 percent to as high as 41 percent from 2009 to 2035.

Field tests continue in regards to gas hydrates with the goal of evaluating whether CO2 can be injected in a gas hydrates reservoir resulting in the production of methane while permanently sequestering CO2.

Industry interest should increase as sustained commercial production is achieved.

Nuclear power has re-emerged over the past decade and accounts for about 20 percent of our electricity – increased from 2003 to 2007 and decreased until mid-2010. Even with events following the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and resultant Fukushima incident, future trends are certainly upward, at coal’s expense, over the next 25 years.

Geothermal funding continues at the federal level with increases in funding anticipated.

Did I forget to mention that energy consumption is anticipated to go up across the board? You probably already knew that.


In summary, I am far from convinced that EMD is all about being out of the ordinary. In fact, EMD-related interests are becoming more mainstream in our daily dialogue – just look at the current interest among our colleagues and public in gas shale.

I am hopelessly optimistic for political leadership that will move us toward a national energy policy that is reasonable and economically and environmentally sound.

EMD will continue to play a significant and increasing role as interest grows in unconventional and alternative energy resources. This is clearly demonstrated by the increase in EMD membership (160 percent since March 2010), increasing numbers of individuals tapping into EMD’s website resources (EMD web portal activity up 100 percent in page views and 900 percent in visitors), and an increase in ballots cast in the recent election (up 145 percent from last year). There is no enthusiastic indifference here.

I am both excited and honored to have the opportunity to serve as the 2011-12 EMD president. As the new EMD Executive Committee develops and moves forward with our agenda for the upcoming year, our primary purpose is to continue to demonstrate and maintain our relevancy – and how we communicate not only to the choir but to all of our stakeholders.

These are exciting times for EMD and those involved in energy resources. The out of the ordinary is increasingly becoming the ordinary – extraordinary ordinary.

I invite you all to participate in this innovative and challenging venture.

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The geometries of clay smears produced in a series of direct shear experiments on composite blocks containing a clay-rich seal layer sandwiched between sandstone reservoir layers have been analyzed in detail. The geometries of the evolving shear zones and volume clay distributions are related back to the monitored hydraulic response, the deformation conditions, and the clay content and strength of the seal rock. The laboratory experiments were conducted under 4 to 24 MPa (580–3481 psi) fault normal effective stress, equivalent to burial depths spanning from less than approximately 0.8 to 4.2 km (0.5 to 2.6 mi) in a sedimentary basin. The sheared blocks were imaged using medical-type x-ray computed tomography (CT) imaging validated with optical photography of sawn blocks. The interpretation of CT scans was used to construct digital geomodels of clay smears and surrounding volumes from which quantitative information was obtained. The distribution patterns and thickness variations of the clay smears were found to vary considerably according to the level of stress applied during shear and to the brittleness of the seal layer. The stiffest seal layers with the lowest clay percentage formed the most segmented clay smears. Segmentation does not necessarily indicate that the fault seal was breached because wear products may maintain the seal between the individual smear segments as they form. In experiments with the seal layer formed of softer clays, a more uniform smear thickness is observed, but the average thickness of the clay smear tends to be lower than in stiffer clays. Fault drag and tapering of the seal layer are limited to a region close to the fault cutoffs. Therefore, the comparative decrease of sealing potential away from the cutoff zones differs from predictions of clay smear potential type models. Instead of showing a power-law decrease away from the cutoffs toward the midpoint of the shear zone, the clay smear thickness is either uniform, segmented, or undulating, reflecting the accumulated effects of kinematic processes other than drag. Increased normal stress improved fault sealing in the experiments mainly by increasing fault zone thickness, which led to more clay involvement in the fault zone per unit of source layer thickness. The average clay fraction of the fault zone conforms to the prediction of the shale gouge ratio (SGR) model because clay volume is essentially preserved during the deformation process. However, the hydraulic seal performance does not correlate to the clay fraction or SGR but does increase as the net clay volume in the fault zone increases. We introduce a scaled form of SGR called SSGR to account for increased clay involvement in the fault zone caused by higher stress and variable obliquity of the seal layer to the fault zone. The scaled SGR gives an improved correlation to seal performance in our samples compared to the other algorithms.
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Diagenesis significantly impacts mudstone lithofacies. Processes operating to control diagenetic pathways in mudstones are poorly known compared to analogous processes occurring in other sedimentary rocks. Selected organic-carbon-rich mudstones, from the Kimmeridge Clay and Monterey Formations, have been investigated to determine how varying starting compositions influence diagenesis.

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Carbonate submarine slopes have a tendency to be steeper than their siliciclastic counterparts, an observation that is generally attributed to microbial binding and early cementation in carbonates. However, careful comparison of gross development, curvature, and angle of dip in similar settings shows surprising similarities between siliciclastic and carbonate slopes. This paper presents examples of the various systems from seismic and outcrop and proposes a workflow that facilitates more systematic and improved prediction of carbonate and siliciclastic depositional systems ahead of drill.

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