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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 recovery.

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: bobmap@utk.edu.

  • 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: mbatzle@mines.edu

  • 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 Institute.

    The Energy Department will provide $858,000 for the three-year project while private sector cost-sharing will add another $220,000.

    Contact: Ms. Dorothy Rosales, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238, 210-522-5652, e-mail: drosales@swri.org 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 sharing.

    Contact: Norman R. Morrow, University of Wyoming, Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, PO Box 3295, Laramie, WY 82701, e-mail: morrownr@uwyo.edu

  • 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 $160,000.

    Contact: Akhil Datta-Gupta, Texas Engineering Experiment Station, 332 Wisenbaker Engineering Research Center, College Station, TX 77843, e-mail: teesosr@tamu.edu

  • 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 production techniques.

    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 cost-sharing.

    Contact: M. Nafi Toksoz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Mass. Ave., E34-440, Cambridge, MA 02139, 617-253-7852, e-mail: naf@erl.mit.edu



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