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Field Laboratory for Emerging Stacked Unconventional Plays (ESUP)
Project Number
Last Reviewed Dated

The goal of the Field Laboratory for Emerging Stacked Unconventional Plays (ESUP) is to investigate and characterize the resource potential for multi-play production of emerging unconventional reservoirs in Central Appalachia.


Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT), Blacksburg, VA 35061
EnerVest Operating, LLC, Houston, TX 77002
Pashin Geoscience, LLC, Stillwater, OK 74074
Gerald R. Hill, PhD, Inc., Huntersville, NC 28078


The Central Appalachian region is host to an abundance of hydrocarbon resources that include coalbed methane, shale, and other unconventional reservoirs. Many of these plays are vertically stacked such that a single well or group of wells in close proximity can produce simultaneously from multiple reservoirs. Many of these reservoirs produce fewer than 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per day and can thus be classified as ESUPs. The project is designed to improve characterization of the multiple emerging unconventional pay zones that exist in the established Nora Gas Field through the drilling and coring of a vertical stratigraphic test well up to 15,000 feet deep. Additionally, the ESUP Field Laboratory Team will explore and quantify the benefit of novel non-aqueous well completion strategies in this region. An assessment will be made of the multi-play resource potential, and a recommended strategy will be advanced for prudent development that considers regional environmental and socioeconomic impacts.


The benefits associated with prudently developing these ESUPs include reduced surface footprint, infrastructure requirements, and development costs. While advances in technology continue to increase the nation’s portfolio of economically recoverable hydrocarbons, uncertainty and technical challenges deter the level of investment required to develop Central Appalachia’s ESUPs. While it is imperative to meet the need for economic development, the region also contains “some of the world’s best remaining examples of diverse, intact, and connected temperate forests and freshwater streams” that reach tens of millions of people every day (Nature Conservancy, 2014). Although resource development and environmental conservation are often conflicting priorities, the results of this research effort will combine best practices, state of the art technology, and effective outreach to address the concerns of all stakeholders.

Nora Gas Field, Virginia (US Energy Information Administration, 2007)
Nora Gas Field, Virginia (US Energy Information Administration, 2007)


Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
  • On June 17, 2020, after casing and cementing the 15,155-foot characterization well, EnerVest Inc. released the Patterson rig. Logging of the well was completed the week of June 7 using a variety of innovative tools including Schlumberger’s advanced Quanta Geo Imager.
  • Two side-wall core runs were made the week of June 8 retrieving 87 core samples from various horizons. These core samples were delivered to NETL for CT scanning.
  • On June 5, 2020 drilling of the characterization well in Wise County, Virginia reached total depth (TD) in granitic basement rock at 15,155 feet. The initial triple combo log was run on June 7. This tool measures three principle parameters (density, porosity and resistivity) and was used to guide coring point locations.
  • On April 19, 2020, the large triple-combo drilling rig was mobilized from Monongalia County, WV to the Emerging Stacked Unconventional Play (ESUP) site in Wise County Virginia. Access road upgrades necessary for the large drilling rig to enter the site have been completed and industry partner and site owner, EnerVest, is now preparing pad support infrastructure in preparation of receiving the Patterson rig.
  • On March 16, 2020, drilling of the tophole and setting of the conductor casing to 350 feet was completed at the EnerVest site in Wise County Virginia.
  • Siting, design and permitting of the 15,000-foot characterization well has been completed, with a plan drill date of Spring 2020. 
  • VT went out for bids to drill, log and core the well. Bids closed March 8, 2019. A final Authorization for Expenditures (AFE) was developed as a result of the bids and presented to DOE on April 23 for approval.
  • An Advisory Stakeholder Group (ASG) was established and the initial meeting of the group was held November 1, 2018, in Abingdon, Virginia; office location of industry partner EnerVest. The ASG was presented with the overarching scope of the project followed by open discussion pertaining to site selection and drilling of the initial characterization well.  
ESUP pad and drilling rig; Wise County, VA (drone photo taken by Brad Deel, EnerVest. Inc.)
ESUP pad and drilling rig; Wise County, VA (drone photo taken by Brad Deel, EnerVest. Inc.)
Current Status

(June 2019)

Cement bond logs will be run and cores will be analyzed. The project will conduct laboratory testing and reservoir modeling to assess resource potential of various formations and to investigate through modeling future stimulation designs. 

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution


Performer Contribution


Contact Information

NETL – Robert Vagnetti ( or 304-285-1334)
VT – Nino Ripepi ( or 540-231-5458)

Additional Information