Washington, D.C. – A total of 11 research projects that will help find ways to extract more energy from unconventional oil and gas resources while reducing environmental risks have been selected totaling $12.4 million by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE).
The selections include $10.3 million for eight projects that will reduce the environmental risks of shale gas development while accelerating the application of new exploration and production technologies; and $2.1 million for three projects investigating innovative processes for extracting additional oil from mature domestic oil fields including Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). All of the research contracts will be administered by the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), under the management of FE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.
Shale gas – natural gas trapped inside formations of shale – is contributing to a rejuvenation of domestic natural gas supply in the United States, with production having increased fourteen-fold over the past decade with a tripling of reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. FE research has greatly impacted this increase by helping refine cost-effective horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies as well as protective environmental practices and data development.
EOR, which involves using carbon dioxide (CO2), other gas, steam or chemical injection to release "stranded" or hard-to-recover oil, is currently providing about 13 percent of total U.S. production. EIA projects its wider use could result in EOR providing 33 percent of total domestic onshore production by 2035, while helping store millions of tons of CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial sources.
The total value of the shale-related projects is more than $17.0 million over 3 years with approximately $6.7 million of cost-share provided by the recipients in addition to the $10.3 million in federal funds. These projects include:
- GE Global Research (Niskayuna, NY) - NORM Mitigation and Clean Water Recovery from Marcellus Frac Water. This project focuses on development of a hydraulic fracturing wastewater pretreatment process that will remove naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) from a wastewater stream and prepare it for treatment in a cost-effective membrane distillation system. A prototype system will be developed and then evaluated via field testing. If successful, the field tests will show that the process results in much smaller volumes of NORM in a relatively concentrated form that can be more easily disposed of using established practices. The process will also yield clean water than can be recycled for beneficial use, and marketable salt byproducts. DOE share: $1,600,000; Recipient share: $400,000; Duration: 2 years
- Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO) - Novel Engineered Osmosis Technology: A Comprehensive Approach to the Treatment and Reuse of Produced Water and Drilling Wastewater. This project will develop an improved membrane-based water treatment system as an alternative to more costly and/or energy intensive and less effective chemical and membrane systems. The research team will build on existing membrane technology and pretreatment processes, controls, and modeling to construct a novel treatment approach based on a combination of forward osmosis and ultra-filtration concepts. Final verification of the successful system will include field testing. Assuming successful field trials, the technology could be adopted by industry as soon as suitable field processing units were constructed. DOE share: $1,324,000; Recipient share: $382,000; Duration: 2 years
- CSI Technologies (Houston, TX) - Lowering Drilling Cost, Improving Operational Safety, and Reducing Environmental Impact through Zonal Isolation Improvements for Horizontal Wells Drilled in the Marcellus and Haynesville Shales. One concern regarding the massive hydraulic fracturing treatments necessary for shale gas development is the possibility of impacting Underground Sources of Drinking (USDW) located above the producing zones. In this project, the cementing practices currently in use by one of the major operators in the Marcellus and Haynesville shale plays will be evaluated in order to identify vulnerabilities. Laboratory studies will be performed to identify improved approaches to ensuring reliable zonal isolation and field trials will be executed to test the performance of the new practices. All of the information developed through the course of the evaluation, lab studies and field trials will be documented in reports that the industry can use to improve design casing and cementing programs, and that regulatory agencies can use as regulations are promulgated to ensure wellbore integrity requirements have a sound scientific basis. DOE share: $3,006,000; Recipient share: $2,500,000; Duration: 2 years
- Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) - A Geomechanical Analysis of Gas Shale Fracturing and Its Containment. This project will improve current geomechanical models based on detailed studies of cores and hydraulic fracturing data from the Eagle Ford, Haynesville, and Marcellus gas shale plays. The research will include laboratory measurements, numerical simulations, and engineering analyses to rigorously evaluate the rock mechanics controls on fracturing and fracture containment. Findings from these studies will be implemented in 3D numerical fracture simulation models that will allow operators and service companies to design fractures that are better contained within the desired zone while maximizing productivity. DOE share: $651,000; Recipient share: $217,000; Duration: 2 years
- Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) - Diagnosis of Multiple Fracture Stimulation in Horizontal Wells by Downhole Temperature Measurement for Unconventional Oil and Gas Wells. A key element in optimizing fracture treatments with respect to both effectiveness and containment is the ability to accurately characterize the results of frac jobs after they are completed. Current methods such as microseismic monitoring are valuable, but they can be expensive and are not applicable in some environments. This research project will develop a new methodology for hydraulic fracture characterization using downhole temperature and pressure data. The ultimate goal is to develop a user-friendly interpretation tool that can be used in the field for real-time fracture stimulation diagnostics in horizontal wells. DOE share: $763,000; Recipient share: $254,000; Duration: 3 years
- Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO) - Development of Non-Contaminating Cryogenic Fracturing Technology for Shale and Tight Gas Reservoirs. One alternative to the use of water as a fracturing fluid is the use of cryogenic nitrogen or CO2. The use of these alternative fluids is not a new concept, but they have not proven economical in past attempts to apply them to large scale shale gas development. If either of these gases could be used successfully as a hydraulic fracturing working fluid, not only would water management issues be simplified, but the potential for fracture fluid contamination of near-surface water sources would be reduced. In this project, laboratory studies followed by field demonstrations will be performed in an effort to better understand the processes and conditions of cryogenic fracture generation in shales, and to determine the feasibility and associated operational procedures in the field. DOE share: $1,991,000; Recipient share: $2,600,000; Duration: 3 years
- Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO)- Predicting Higher-Than-Average Permeability Zones In Tight-Gas Sands, Piceance Basin: An Integrated Structural And Stratigraphic Analysis. This research effort will develop a model-based methodology for the prediction of higher permeability zones ("sweet spots") in the subsurface from the integration of surface geology, regional historical well and seismic data. The primary deliverable will be a publicly available geologic model documented in reports and publications, available for use by many smaller operators that produce a significant amount of Piceance Basin gas. Targeting the high pay zones in wells improves environmental performance as the maximum volume of natural gas can be produced for a given level of infrastructure. DOE share: $512000; Recipient share: $200,000; Duration: 2 years
- Houston Advanced Research Center (The Woodlands, TX) –Technology Integration Program. This research project will identify and assess technologies that if deployed in an integrated fashion, will improve the environmental performance and increase recovery when developing unconventional formations. It is expected that applicable plays will be identified, expected gains estimated, and preliminary costs for conducting field trials developed within the overall project context. DOE share: $500,000; Recipient share: $125,000; Duration: 1 year
As a whole, information gained from the shale projects will further DOE’s effort to quantify the risks of environmental impacts from unconventional natural gas development, and to develop technologies to reduce those risks and mitigate any unforeseen impacts. The results of this research will be accessible to the industry looking to apply new technologies, to the public looking to understand the true costs and benefits of domestic energy development, and to regulators looking to craft and implement scientifically grounded regulations.
Meanwhile, the total value of the mature domestic oil fields related projects is more than $3.2 million over 3 years with approximately $1.1 million of cost-share provided by the recipients in addition to the $2.1 million in federal funds. Because the fields involved are located in areas with existing oil and gas infrastructure and decades of historical production activity, the impact on the environment of incremental increases in production will be negligible compared to that associated with production from new oil plays. These projects include:
- Power, Environmental, Energy Research Institute (Covina, CA) - Game Changing Technology of Polymeric-Surfactants for Tertiary Oil Recovery in the Illinois Basin. Oil production in the Illinois Basin has declined over the past 60 years from a peak of over 480,000 barrels per day (bpd) to only 25,000 bpd. However, the Illinois Basin still holds a multi-billion barrel resource of residual oil,that remains "stranded" in reservoirs due to a lack of cost effective enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technology. This project will endeavor to develop a functional polymeric surfactant (FPS) that, when added to conventional waterfloods could provide significant enhancement in oil recovery. The research team will develop EOR project designs and prepare a comprehensive economic evaluation of the potential for applying FPS EOR in the Illinois Basin. All results will be documented in reports that small producers can use as guides for implementing projects. DOE share: $624,000; Recipient share: $156,000; Duration: 2 years
- The University of Texas of the Permian Basin (Odessa, TX) - Identifying and Developing Technology for Enabling Small Producers to Pursue the Residual Oil Zone (ROZ) Fairways of the Permian Basin, San Andres. Residual Oil Zones (ROZs, portions of a reservoir rock formation that have very low oil saturations) are known to be present beneath the highly oil saturated traps of certain oil fields in the Permian Basin of Texas. Similar ROZs may also exist as "fairways" beyond the structural traps of other existing oil fields. If a technology could be found to economically produce oil from these low saturation zones, millions of barrels of oil could potentially be recovered from mature producing areas. This research project will develop a methodology to estimate the potential of ROZs in the Permian Basin and then extend the methodology to the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming and the Williston Basin in North Dakota. This information should attract industry investment in the development of this potentially significant resource located in areas of current oil and natural gas production activity, maximizing domestic resource recovery from the existing environmental footprint. DOE share: $859,000; Recipient share: $384,000; Duration: 3 years
- Correlations Company (Socorro, NM) - Predicting Porosity and Saturations from Mud Logs and Drilling Information Using Artificial Intelligence with Focus on a Horizontal Well. In most onshore reservoirs, as much as a third or more of the original oil remains in place when the fields reach their economic limit. Recent advances in horizontal well technology permit additional recovery from these fields by accessing poorly drained portions of the reservoir. However, due to high costs, many horizontal wells are drilled without conventional geophysical wire-line logging suites to guide the completion process. A reliable tool that provides small producers the information required to design completions in horizontal wells but still avoids the high cost of logging would allow more oil to be produced from mature fields. This project will employ an artificial intelligence (AI) technique called pattern recognition to correlate mud log and other drilling data with known wire-line logging data in order to predict wire-line log porosity and saturations along a horizontal wellbore. The resulting methodology to generate decisional data for enhancing horizontal infill well performance in mature fields will be published and available for independent producers to use in optimizing their field operations. DOE share: $575,000; Recipient share: $575,000; Duration: 1 year