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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Department of Energy announced the selection of three multiyear, field laboratories and six other multiyear research projects for continued research to promote environmentally prudent development of unconventional oil and natural gas (UOG) resources. As part of a July, 2014 Executive Order and a multiagency effort involving the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Geological Survey, these selections will help provide timely science and technology that will minimize environmental impacts of UOG development while maximizing the economic and national security benefits.   

The project selections are with universities and companies located in West Virginia, Illinois, Ohio, Montana, Texas, California, and Oklahoma and managed by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), These research projects are designed to address critical gaps in knowledge of the characterization, basic subsurface science, and new completion/stimulation strategies for tight oil, tight gas, and shale gas resources, with the goal of enabling more efficient resource recovery from fewer and less environmentally impactful wells.  

Three of the selected projects are dedicated field laboratories to be located in three key unconventional and natural gas resource development areas. The Department plans to build on these projects in coming years by expanding into other established and emerging UOG areas.  In addition to providing opportunities to monitor the nature and impacts of UOG development, these sites are expected to progress into testing grounds for newly developed Department, academia, and industry technologies that promote environmentally sound and efficient oil and gas development.

The first of the DOE Unconventional Resources Field Laboratories projects:

  • West Virginia University (Morgantown, W.Va.) — West Virginia University, along with Ohio State University and Northeast Natural Energy, will provide dedicated wells and advanced instrumentation in wells to improve resource recovery and increase understanding of environmental implications of resource development in the Marcellus shale. The primary objectives include providing a long-term research site with an existing well and documented production and environment baseline from two previous completed wells. A dedicated scientific observation well will be used to collect detailed subsurface data and to monitor and test technologies in additional wells to be drilled periodically over the project lifetime. The site offers a unique opportunity to enable an open, collaborative, and integrated program of science and technology development and testing to minimize environmental impacts while maximizing economic benefits. (DOE Funding: $7,354,745; Cost Share: $6,000,000; Duration: 60 months)
  • Gas Technology Institute (Des Plaines, Ill.) — The Gas Technology Institute and research partners will provide a dedicated test site for developing knowledge, technologies, and procedures aimed at eliminating current hydraulic fracturing inefficiencies by creating effective fractures along the entire length of the horizontal well. The net effect of such efficiency improvement will amount to increased production from shale wells using less water, chemicals, proppants, and energy, thereby minimizing environmental impacts. The research effort includes full characterization of the test sites in terms of geologic, reservoir engineering, and environmental baselines; performing hydraulic fracturing in a dedicated research well, monitoring the fracturing process using microseismic and tiltmeter technologies, and finally coring of the fractured zones. Analysis of fracture properties as impacted by reservoir rock conditions will lead to the development of the cause-and-effect relationship between fracturing parameters and reservoir rock while advancing our understanding of environmental implications. (DOE Funding: $12,073,449; Cost Share: $12,085,195; Duration: 36 months)
  • Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio) — Ohio State University, West Virginia University and other research partners will establish a dedicated field site with an operating well in the Utica play as a working laboratory for onsite research. The primary objectives include (1) executing a series of research tasks focused on subsurface resources and the environment to augment and advance UOG best practices, (2) improving our understanding of the nature and impact (including baseline environmental knowledge) of UOG resource development, (3) advancing technology and engineering practices to increase safety and well productivity while decreasing environmental impact, and (4) providing transparency of information and public education. (DOE Funding: $6,964,515; Cost Share: $4,771,992; Duration: 48 months)

DOE has also selected six other new projects aimed at addressing specific areas of interest; these feature both initial laboratory testing and modeling as well as field-based technology validation:

  • Montana State University (Bozeman, Mont.) — Montana State University will develop improved methods for sealing compromised wellbore cement in oil and gas wells, thereby reducing the risk of unwanted gas migration. The primary objectives include advancing technologies for sealing compromised wellbore cement using the process known as Microbially Induced Calcite Precipitation (MICP) developed under previous DOE awards. The project will prepare for and conduct an initial MICP field test aimed at sealing a poor well cement bond in an existing well. After thorough analysis of the results from the first field test and refinement and improvement of the methodology, a second MICP test will be conducted. (DOE Funding: $1,525,698; Cost Share: $405,577; Duration: 36 months)
  • University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) — The University of Texas at Austin will build and test a downhole fracture diagnostic tool that can be used to determine the “propped” hydraulic fracture dimensions (which are usually different from the created fracture), the principal driver for well productivity. The primary objectives include investigating a new downhole logging tool in conjunction with an electrically conductive proppant which has the potential to estimate not only the propped length, height and orientation of hydraulic fractures but also the vertical distribution of proppant within the fracture. This tool will represent a game- changing technology for fracture diagnostics that can be used to improve recovery efficiency, reduce costs, and help minimize environmental footprint. (DOE Funding: $1,607,058; Cost Share: $583,228; Duration: 36 months)
  • Texas Tech University (Lubbock, Texas) — Texas Tech University will study the mechanisms of cyclic gas injection to enhance oil recovery in shale oil and gas condensate shale reservoirs via laboratory experiments and numerical modeling and then prove the feasibility at two field test sites provided by Apache Corporation. The primary objectives are to research the dominant mechanisms of gas injection in shale reservoirs, finding the most effective mode of gas injection in shale oil reservoirs and in gas condensate reservoirs, exploring the economic value of effective gas injection modes, and carrying out field pilot tests that demonstrate the proposed technology. The activities will include laboratory study of the mechanisms (both core- scale and pore-scale), modeling, simulation study of field potential, development of upscaling theory, and field testing of the cyclic gas injection methods. (DOE Funding: $1,196,552; Cost Share: $2,550,000; Duration: 36 months)
  • Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, Texas) — Southwest Research Institute and Schlumberger Technology Corporation will develop and field test a novel, optimized, lightweight, and modular surface process involving natural gas liquefaction, compression, and pumping to replace water as a cost-effective and environmentally clean fracturing fluid. Utilizing liquefied natural gas as the fracturing fluid eliminates the collection, waste, and treatment of large amounts of water and reduces the environmental impact of transporting and storing the fracturing fluid. The project will provide necessary demonstration of the commercial viability of the surface systems needed to advance waterless hydraulic fracturing applications. (DOE Funding: $1,280,000; Cost Share: $320,000; Duration: 36 months)
  • Paulsson, Inc (Van Nuys, Calif.) — Paulsson, Inc. will develop hydraulic fracture mapping and monitoring technologies that will allow for both efficient and environmentally safe development of unconventional oil and gas resources. The primary objectives include (1) developing microseismic emitters (that emit an acoustic signature) that can be mixed in small concentrations with conventional proppant and co-injected into the fractures to allow the tracking of the actual location of the proppant, and (2) developing an ultra-sensitive, large bandwidth, large aperture, fiber-optic-based borehole seismic vector sensor array that can be deployed in both vertical and horizontal wells to monitor the data from the microseismic emitters. (DOE Funding: $4,078,190; Cost Share: $4,442,360; Duration: 48 months)
  • GE Global Research (Oklahoma City, Okla.) — GE Global Research will develop a novel well-integrity inspection system capable of providing enhanced information about possible flaws in structure and topology of conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells. The primary objectives are to develop a new imaging technique, which combines imaging information obtained from X-ray and neutron backscatter in a single instrument, and fuse this data with complementary information obtained from existing technologies. This method will enable well integrity inspection in zones of multiple casing strings and well integrity inspection at any time during well life without need to add fluid to the well. Periodic, accurate, and complete inspections of the existing production infrastructure are an essential component of modern oil and gas industry maintenance strategy, addressing both operational safety and water and ecosystem sustainability concerns.  (DOE Funding: $2,488,689; Cost Share: $3,110,861; Duration: 24 months)