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The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has awarded six research projects to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories to advance fundamental shale research. The two-year projects will investigate the processes associated with hydrocarbon extraction from unconventional shale reservoirs and lead to a better understanding of factors affecting prudent resource development.

Recent technology advancements have unlocked vast quantities of oil and natural gas in low-permeability shale formations. However, the full development of these resources, which are critical to our nation’s energy future, have presented unique challenges. With recovery efficiencies at less than 30 percent for natural gas and 10 percent for oil, as well as environmental concerns related to development practices, continued research is needed.

The six projects were originally selected as 18-month projects in response to NETL’s FY2014 Fundamentals of Unconventional Reservoirs Lab Call and received a total of $3.6 million in DOE funding.  Based on their merits, they were recently extended for an additional two year period.  The extended projects will receive a total of $4.8 million in DOE over the two-year performance period.  

These projects leverage the unique capabilities of DOE’s national laboratory system to address critical knowledge gaps in unconventional resource development—a key step in enabling safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible production of these resources. Due to the interrelated nature of the projects, the national laboratories will collaborate with each other and with NETL’s Research and Innovation Center. Below is a brief description of each project.

  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will investigate the permeability of fractures in shale gas formations and how various proppants (materials used to keep fractures open) impact the sustainability of underdeveloped shale reservoirs. Understanding the relationship between shale properties and their impact on fluid/gas transport will help optimize decisions regarding the choice and control of proppants, leading to improved recovery.
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will evaluate the adsorption of water onto shale surfaces to better understand factors that control the potential blocking or constriction of flow pathways for oil and gas recovery. Through the investigation of water and hydrocarbon fluid displacement, the team will identify fracturing fluid compositions and properties that support optimal recovery. Additional research will evaluate the influence of non-water-based fracturing fluids on shale gas and oil recovery.
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will address the challenges associated with the production of low-viscosity oil from tight shale systems. Using laboratory investigations and computational simulations, the team will evaluate factors involved in hydrocarbon production from tight systems and identify methods that improve recovery of low-viscosity liquids.
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory will use experimental and computational tools to investigate the hydraulic fracture processes in order to improve oil and gas production from shale formations. The results of this work will yield a better understanding of shale fracture properties, hydraulic fracture performance, and methods to specifically target features within the fracture systems to improve production.
  • Sandia National Laboratories will build on prior research to further define component interaction and flow in shale pores. This will then be used to develop a fluid model for gas release and recovery from shale formations. The new model will be combined with an existing simulation tool for the prediction of oil and gas production from shale reservoirs.
  • Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) National Accelerator Laboratory will investigate how hydraulic fracturing fluids induce damaged zones in shale formations. These zones are associated with reduced flow and recovery of oil and gas. The results of this work will provide a better understanding of the interaction of fracture fluids with shale, leading to the optimization of fracture fluid compositions and exposure times based on shale properties.