To some, the academic world of colleges and universities represents Ivory Towers, detached from reality. To the U.S. Department of Energy, they represent a crucial – and practical – research potential.
Over the past academic year 13 projects designed to improve efforts to develop large unconventional gas and oil resources have been under way at various schools, all thanks to the DOE and various industry investment.
The 13 DOE grants totaled $10.7 million to 13 such projects. Another $5.6 million was added by industry and academic partners.
The projects also emphasize ways to minimize the environmental impacts of drilling and producing.
Most of the projects focus on boosting recovery of unconventional natural gas, which can be found in coal seams, low-permeability or “tight” sandstones and ultra-deep natural gas resources found more than 15,000 feet underground.
Combined, those sources of unconventional natural gas are estimated to be approximately 700 trillion cubic feet, compared to an industry estimate of 190 Tcf in conventional natural gas reserves.
Presently, unconventional natural gas accounts for nearly one quarter of total domestic supply, a share that will rise with future technological advancements such as those being investigated by the funded projects.
Six of the projects are intended to improve the efficiency of drilling, appraising and production of low-permeability formations by collecting, analyzing and publicizing a variety of critical data. This will enable operators to generate less waste and extract more gas from fewer wells.
The Energy Department also is researching the difficult environments encountered while drilling ultra-deep gas wells – another untapped resource for additional natural gas. Three projects will focus on “smart” drilling systems that will withstand the extreme temperatures, pressures and corrosive conditions of deep reservoirs. Two other projects will perfect drilling techniques to lessen environmental impact and lower costs.
DOE spokesperson Megan Bennett said the department is attempting to develop a “road map” for research and development projects. DOE is monitoring the projects and will determine if further research or funding is warranted.
A full list of projects is available from DOE, at www.doe.gov. Some of the academic projects include:
University of Kansas Center for Research Inc. (Lawrence, Kan.) – Researchers will evaluate and publish data concerning reservoir and rock formation properties, which will assist operators in efficient drilling of tight gas sandstones (TGS).
The study will analyze five Rocky Mountain basins that represent the biggest part of the total Rocky Mountain TGS resource, which in turn is 70 percent of the nation’s TGS resource base. (DOE share: $411,030; project duration: 24 months).
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (Socorro, N.M.) – Researchers will collect, integrate and analyze a variety of well and reservoir-rock physics data related to two tight gas reservoirs, the Mesa Verde and Dakota formations in the San Juan Basin. (DOE share: $516,000; 36 months).
West Virginia University Research Corp. (Morgantown, W.Va.) – Researchers will simplify, accelerate and digitize the data collection process for independent producers interested in developing tight gas reservoirs in the Appalachian Basin. Data will cover five significant areas in the basin (DOE share: $566,729; 36 months).
University of Texas (Austin, Texas) – Researchers will enhance 3-D hydraulic fracture models to help operators design and optimize energized fracture treatments in a systematic way. (DOE share: $985,796; 36 months).
Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, Okla.) – Researchers will design and build a downhole microcomputer system with peripherals that can operate at 275 degrees Celsius, allowing operators to take critical downhole measurements and better steer the drill bit. (DOE share: $578,391; 18 months).
In addition to the Texas A&M project, another project also aims to improve CO2 enhanced oil recovery technology in a novel way: At Mississippi State University at Starkville, researchers intend to improve oil recovery by up to 100 percent by using environmentally friendly nutrients to stimulate the growth of microorganisms so that water and CO2 are diverted to previously unswept reservoir zones. (DOE share: $900,000; 36 months).