MORGANTOWN, WV - America has vast resources of natural
gas, but President Bush's National Energy Policy cautions that domestic
production of the easier "conventional" gas could peak as early
To help prepare for the day when the Nation's increasing demand for clean-burning
natural gas will have to be met by gas trapped in denser, more difficult-to-produce
"unconventional" formations, the U.S. Department of Energy has
selected two firms to develop advanced methods for locating and producing
these low permeability gas reservoirs.
The National Energy Technology Laboratory, through its Strategic Center
for Natural Gas, has selected: [click on project for details]
The two projects are valued at just over $5 million. Once negotiations
are completed, they will join the Energy Department's fossil energy research
portfolio. Currently, the department has nearly a dozen projects underway
to develop better ways to find natural gas locked within low-permeability
formations, produce more of it per well, and reduce the number of dry
MICROSCOPIC SECTIONS OF SANDSTONE. Conventional
sandstone (top) has well- connected pores (dark blue). The pores
of tight gas sandstone (bottom) are irregularly distributed and
poorly connected by very narrow capillaries. Gas flows through
these rocks at generally low rates.
The effort to unlock the huge gas resources believed to exist in these
difficult formations has become increasingly important with recent projections
for dramatic increases in the Nation's consumption of natural gas, the
cleanest burning fossil fuel.
The Energy Department currently forecasts that U.S. gas demand could
rise by more than 50 percent over the next two decades. President Bush's
National Energy Policy, released on May 17, 2001, warns that "While
the resource base that supplies today's natural gas is vast, U.S. conventional
production is project to peak as early as 2015. Increasingly, the nation
will have to rely on natural gas from unconventional resources...."
The Administration's forecast is consistent with the findings of the
National Petroleum Council, a non-government advisory group to the Energy
Department, which estimated that production from low-permeability wells
will need to double by 2015 to meet growing demand for natural gas.
Several studies by the U.S. Geological Survey estimate that low-permeability
reservoirs contain several thousand trillion cubic feet of gas, enough
to meet total U.S. demand for at least 30 years even if only one third
of it can be recovered.
Much of the low-permeability natural gas resource is found in reservoirs
deeper than 15,000 feet. Most of these wells are marginally productive
because they do not have an extensive, interconnected network of natural
fractures, which can serve as conduits through which natural gas can flow
to producing wells.
Also, drillers have encountered large amounts of water in some low-permeability
resources where water production would not be expected to be an issue.
High-water production forces natural gas companies to think twice about
developing certain areas and may cause the industry to abandon significant
The two new projects will focus on resolving these issues.
Innovative Discovery Technologies, Inc., Laramie,
WY, proposes to remove some of the risks and uncertainty of drilling
low-permeability wells by developing a basin-wide, 3-dimensional model
that gives detailed information about the reservoir before drilling
begins. The model maps a well's water and gas content, porosity and
its likelihood of producing gas by identifying its "sweet spots,"
high-production areas. It also locates pressure boundaries and characterizes
them. As a result, gas companies can avoid excessive water production
by designing optimum drilling and completion programs. IDT proposes
to demonstrate this technology in the Wind River Basin, Central Wyoming.
Project cost: $1.94 million; proposed DOE share:
$970,000; participant share: $970,000;
Project duration: 2 years
Principal investigator: Ronald C. Surdam, (307) 745-4476
The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, plans
to improve the performance and reduce the cost of creating hydraulic
(man-made) fractures in tight areas of sandstone where gas is frequently
trapped and difficult to recover. The university will create a model
using laboratory tests, improved fracture simulations, and implementation
and analysis for the Bossier play (field) southeast of Dallas. To
confirm the predictions of such a model in the field, a fracture-monitoring
program is proposed with a detailed analysis of current and future
fracture treatments. Developing an inexpensive fluid to prevent water
blockage in some of the very tight sand formations could recover additional
gas from zones that currently do not produce after they are fractured.
Productive sands are found at depths ranging from 12,000 feet to 15,000
feet. Costs are just as staggering: The gas industry spends $1.75
million to drill a single well and get it ready to produce. The University
of Texas at Austin will partner with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. in Houston.
Project cost: $3.09 million; proposed DOE share:
$883,931; participant share: $2.21 million
Project duration: 2 years
Principal investigator: Mukul M. Sharma, (512) 471-3257