New projects to help operators 'see' oil, gas formations more clearly
Six research teams to develop advanced diagnostics and imaging technologies for oil, gas fields
Tulsa, OK - If oil and gas producers could "see" hydrocarbon-bearing
formations more accurately from the surface or from nearby wellbores,
they can position new wells more precisely to produce more oil or gas
with less risk and ultimately, at lower costs.
For many producers in the United States, especially smaller producers
operating on razor-thin margins, advanced diagnostics and imaging
systems can help them in business. By visualizing the barriers and
pathways for the flow of oil and gas through underground rock
formations, producers can avoid dry holes and increase ultimate
The results can keep oil and gas flowing from domestic fields - a goal
that is becoming increasingly important to U.S. energy security.
To help provide America's oil and gas producers with these new tools
and techniques, the Department of Energy's National Petroleum
Technology Office in Tulsa, part of the National Energy Technology
Laboratory, has selected six new projects:
The University of Tennessee will team with
the U.S. Geological Survey to use the
geologic, chemical, and thermal history of the
southeastern Appalachian Basin to predict
the location for new oil-bearing formations
that may have eluded previous exploration.
Previous work by the University and USGS
have led to significant discoveries in this
region -- an area comprised of eastern
Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, eastern
Kentucky, and southern West Virginia. These
discoveries could open up major exploration
possibilities in geologic settings largely written off by the major oil
companies in the 1980s.
With $537,263 from the Energy Department and $107,453
provided by the university, petroleum researchers will undertake
a 3-year project to develop a more accurate picture of the
region's reservoir architecture that could reveal underground
formations where producible oil might be trapped.
Contact: Robert D. Hatcher, Jr., University of Tennessee, Dept.
of Geological Sciences, 306 Geological Sciences Bldg.,
Knoxville, TN 37996-0140, 423-974-2238, e-mail:
Colorado School of Mines will address one of the most high
risk challenges of hydrocarbon exploration and production: the
deep-water areas of the Gulf of Mexico.
Working with researchers from the Houston Advanced Research
Center, Paradigm Geophysical, Inc., and Texas A&M University,
the Colorado School of Mines will develop an innovative method
of comparing different types of seismic waves to measure the
density of promising deep-water rock formations in the Gulf of
Mexico. Density can be a very useful indicator of whether oil or
gas concentrations are present. A key challenge for the
researchers will be to develop a way of distinguishing between
commercially attractive concentrations of hydrocarbons and
noncommercial areas where hydrocarbons are mixed with water.
The Gulf of Mexico is considered one of the most promising
regions for remaining U.S. domestic oil resources.
The Energy Department plans to provide $750,000 for the
three-year project. The University will contribute $250,000.
Contact: Dr. Michael Batzle, Colorado School of Mines, 1500
Illinois St., Golden, CO 80401, 303-384-2706, e-mail:
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX, plans to
investigate a way to tie changes in the strength of a seismic
signal to the actual properties of a reservoir rock. To date,
seismic techniques have been unable to distinguish accurately
between variations in the texture and porosity of reservoir rock
and the concentration of hydrocarbons trapped within the rock.
Using seismic data from a producing field, researchers will
correlate the seismic signals to the reservoir's known
hydrocarbon content. Once this relationship is better defined, it
could be used broadly to reduce the number of dry holes, the
costs, and environmental impact of field development.
The field test site will be at the Waggoner Ranch (West Texas)
owned by the W. T. Waggoner Estate, a small producer. The
estate will provide cost-sharing with Southwest Research
The Energy Department will provide $858,000 for the three-year
project while private sector cost-sharing will add another
Contact: Ms. Dorothy Rosales, Southwest Research Institute,
6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238, 210-522-5652,
The University of Wyoming and New Mexico Institute of
Mining and Technology will examine how the chemical
characteristics and interactions of water, oil and rock influence
the tendency of oil droplets to cling to the reservoir rock. The
focus will be on carbonate formations, where these
characteristics are poorly understood. Carbonate formations are
believed to hold about half of the U.S. oil reserves.
Using this information, researchers will study how the rock, water
and oil properties relate to the way a reservoir responds when
water or gas is injected to increase oil production.
The Energy Department will provide $750,000 for the three-year
project. Another $250,000 will come from private sector cost
Contact: Norman R. Morrow, University of Wyoming, Chemical &
Petroleum Engineering, PO Box 3295, Laramie, WY 82701,
The Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) at Texas
A&M University, along with The University of Texas, will design
computer simulation techniques that can help trace the path of
fluids through reservoir rock using sophisticated chemical
tracers. The simulation methods will be tailored for a class of
tracers known as "partitioning tracers" which can selectively
follow a specific fluid in the reservoir. These tracers allow
operators to distinguish between oil and water flowing through
the reservoir rock.
A key element of the project will be to draw upon procedures
developed for processing seismic signals to accelerate the way
a computer traces "streamlines." Streamlines are a
mathematical plot of the path fluids take in a reservoir during
production. The proposed approach is expected to be 10 to
1000 times faster than previous methods.
The Department's funding share will total $630,000 for the
three-year effort. Project partners will provide an additional
Contact: Akhil Datta-Gupta, Texas Engineering Experiment
Station, 332 Wisenbaker Engineering Research Center, College
Station, TX 77843, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will join with
Shell International to develop a reservoir flow model that can be
used to design production methods for carbonate reservoirs and
tight gas sand formations. The dense nature of these rocks
hinders the flow of oil and gas except through ribbon-thin
fractures that run through the reservoir rocks. Locating these
fractures, therefore, is important in developing effective
MIT and Shell will use seismic data to predict fracture distribution
in three dimensions using innovative techniques that factor in
rock stress and well log data. The researchers will validate their
technique by comparing the results of the simulation tool with
actual field production data.
The Department's funding share of the three-year project will total
$941,000, with another $550,000 to be provided in private sector
Contact: M. Nafi Toksoz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
77 Mass. Ave., E34-440, Cambridge, MA 02139, 617-253-7852,
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.