DOE Selects New Projects to Enhance Oil and Gas Production

U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham today announced the selection of 35 new cost-shared projects that promise to strengthen our nation's energy security and reduce greenhouse emissions. In announcing the awards, Secretary Abraham lauded the wide-ranging projects as "an investment in our future that will benefit the Nation for years to come." The total award value of the new projects is more than $39 million.

"President Bush's National Energy Policy calls attention to the continuing need to strengthen our energy security, modernize energy infrastructure, and accelerate the protection and improvement of the environment," Secretary Abraham said. "It also calls for promoting enhanced oil and gas recovery, and improving oil- and gas-exploration technology to increase domestic energy supplies. The new projects meet all of these important national goals."

Awards were made in four research areas. They include:

  • Two projects will develop drilling technology for high-speed downhole motors.
  • Thirteen projects will improve advanced diagnostics and imaging technology.
  • Fourteen projects will advance reservoir efficiency processes.
  • Six projects will help ensure the delivery reliability for natural gas.

  • Several of the projects have an additional benefit. By focusing attention on the increased use of CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, they may allow more CO2 to be injected into geologic formations. Not only could more oil be produced, but in this win-win scenario, the greenhouse gas CO2 would be prevented from entering the atmosphere.

    The projects extend from two to five years, and will be managed for the Energy Department by the Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory.

    Drilling Technology for High-Speed Downhole Motors

    Projects to develop high-speed downhole motors suitable for drilling with high-speed drill bits in harsh downhole environments are the focus of this research area. High-speed drilling can potentially reduce costs and minimize the environmental impact of developing oil wells. While the development of high-speed drill bits is progressing steadily, a suitable downhole motor is needed to fully develop the capabilities of the high-speed bits.

    Two projects were selected in this focus area to accelerate novel motor design and testing:

  • APS Technology Inc. (Cromwell, Conn.) will design and test an efficient, reliable gearing system coupled with a conventional positive-displacement mud motor to produce rotary speeds up to 10,000 rpm, matching the requirements of new drill bits under development. By changing the gear ratio, the motor may be adapted to a variety of bits and drilling requirements. The use of high-speed motor and bit combinations could greatly increase drilling speed, and reduce the cost of developing wells. The use of smaller diameters and coiled tubing drilling in conjunction with these systems could further reduce costs. (Project duration: 2 years; Total award value: $998,851)
  • Impact Technologies LLC (Tulsa, Okla.) and the University of Missouri at Rolla will perform a technical feasibility study of an advanced, high-speed electric motor in an inverted configuration, and will demonstrate the suitability of the design for ultra-high-speed drilling. The design will allow very high internal pressures and the use of difficult fluid mixtures. It will also allow wired instruments to measure formation and drilling parameters immediately behind the lead bit while drilling. Other advantages include high performance over a wide range of operating conditions, versatility, and controllability. Stacked and/or multiple motors can also be used in the bottomhole assembly, and these can rotate in opposite directions for balanced torque on the reduced-size drillstring. (Project duration: 2 years; Total award value: $221,322)

  • Advanced Diagnostics & Imaging Technology

    The 13 projects selected in this research area focus on helping oil and gas producers visualize the pathways for underground fluid flow. Uncertainty about the physical and chemical nature of oil reservoirs is one of the most severe technological barriers to increasing economic oil recovery. With better diagnostic and imaging technologies, producers can "see " oil, gas, and associated rocks from the earth's surface and from nearby wellbores. With this information, wells can be more efficiently positionedóreducing risk, cutting costs, and increasing ultimate recovery.

    Five projects will develop technologies to increase the accuracy and resolution of subsurface imaging:

  • Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.) will develop methods to quantitatively predict and characterize reservoir quality using seismic data. The work will involve rock physics, sedimentology, seismic interpretation, and analysis of log and core data. The results will improve reservoir characterization and reduce exploration risks. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $788,497)
  • University of Houston (Houston, Texas) will develop a technology to quantify seismic amplitude attributes in terms of reservoir properties. The first phase of the project will document methodology for processing low-frequency seismic reflection data. Investigators will then determine reservoir flow properties based on models and the use of wide-angle reflection data and increased resolution and image quality of reservoir heterogeneities. The combination of quantified frequency-dependent reflectivity measurements and robust frequency processing is expected to provide an excellent tool for reservoir characterization. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,177,855)
  • University of Kansas Center for Research (Lawrence, Kan.) will improve geologic and engineering models for mid-continent fractured reservoirs using 3-D seismic attributes methodologies on shallow-water carbonate reservoirs. Researchers will calibrate seismic attributes and develop workflows to better understand, characterize, and quantify fracture systems in carbonate rocks. The project team will also include the University of Houston and Kansas Geological Survey. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,097,603)<>/li>
  • University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) will develop a new quantitative interpretation algorithm that simultaneously inverts seismic and electromagnetic data from a single borehole tool. The project will advance the conceptual design of a new deep-sensing borehole electromagnetic and seismic instrument that can provide 3-D images of reservoir flow units. Researchers will also develop numerical algorithms and computer codes for joint inversion of borehole seismic and electromagnetic measurements. Several borehole seismic and electromagnetic instruments will be tested, and their properties quantified using the inversion codes. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $999,163)
  • Colorado School of Mines (Golden, Colo.) will research the fundamental factors controlling seismic attenuation and the development of factors to extract information from the field data. The research will address the application of attenuation to hydrocarbon exploration and reservoir evaluation. The Colorado School of Mines will conduct laboratory measurements of 1/Q (the mathematical representation of the attenuation factor) under specified conditions of pressure and saturation, and will then provide the data to Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory for their use in refining theories on the relationship of attenuation to fluid motion and rock properties. The results will be tested using a variety of data types. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $994,733)

  • Three projects will conduct regional studies and basin analysis to aid in finding new oil reserves:

  • (Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (Billings, Mont.) will develop an exploration model for the Permo-Pennsylvanian petroleum system in south-central Montana. They will map hydrocarbon fairways and oil accumulation within the system, and reduce industry exploration costs by identifying the fairway prospects for focused exploration in south-central Montana. (Project duration: 2 years; Total award value: $403,519)
  • University of Illinois (Champaign, Ill.) will develop a digital play for Devonian Paleozoic strata that will improve exploration and development strategies in the Illinois Basin and, ultimately, increase production in the basin. The University will analyze the grid of existing seismic data to explore possible untapped play trends within the basin, and will develop ideas for remobilization of structures over geologic time. The goal is to refine the understanding of the role of offsetting of structures with depth, and examine the role of deeply seated faults and other features within the basin and how they contribute to hydrocarbon formation and migration. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,200,026)
  • University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) will conduct an integrated analysis of the depositional systems and stratigraphic architecture of the Permian Basin. The goals of the project are to produce a detailed comprehensive history of the depositional environments and reservoir systems, and to construct a database of depositional characteristics, and stratigraphic, lithologic and petrophysical properties for each stratigraphic horizon. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,058,571)

  • Five projects will develop methods to better characterize and manage oil reservoirs:

  • Advanced Resources International Inc. (Houston, Texas) will investigate gravity-stable CO2 injection at the giant Permian Basin location in West Texas. The goal is to increase oil recovery in the Scurry Canyon Reef field, which has the potential of an incremental oil recovery on the order of 53 million barrels of oil. Detailed reservoir characterization will be performed, and actual CO2 migration will be assessed by time-lapse crosswell seismic surveys to compare to predictions based on reservoir simulation. Better understanding of the movement of CO2 within the field will improve enhanced recovery. Kinder Morgan CO2 is a project partner. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $5,119,103)
  • University of Kansas Center for Research (Lawrence, Kan.) will evaluate the influence of reservoir pore architecture and initial water saturation on the wettability and relative permeability of shallow-shelf carbonate reservoirs. The prediction of reservoir performance is often based on relative permeability values, while disregarding the effects of wettability and initial water saturation. This usually results in under-predicting water saturation and leads to incorrect predictions of reservoir performance. For marginal reservoirs, such under-prediction can lead to excessive water production, which can make or break continued and enhanced oil recovery operations. The practical importance of developing relative permeability and wettability models will be to demonstrate how to accurately simulate flow in shallow-structure, complex carbonate reservoirs. (Project duration: 2 years; Total award value: $273,489)
  • University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) will investigate the relationship between imbibition, relative permeability and wettability using dielectric responses in a range of sedimentary rocks. The project will use state of the art multi-scale modeling to interpret the measurements and will bring together several advanced technologies that will provide new, quantitative understanding that can then be applied to practical problems. The benefit of the research is to provide better wireline log interpretation for reservoir characterization and more accurate flow descriptions of how fluid flow governs oil recovery. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,193,311)
  • University of Tulsa (Tulsa, Okla.) will integrate geologic, production, and time-lapse seismic data to make the best use of the information for reservoir description and reservoir performance predictions. The starting point for this research will be the automatic history-matching code developed from a previous DOE research project. To ensure that research results lead to practical tools for independent oil companies, the project will include a graphical user interface for the history-matching software using Visual Basic. The research will be conducted by a consortium of the University of Tulsa, Chevron-Texaco and the University of Oklahoma. The consortium will provide data and testing of the software. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,013,221)
  • William Marsh Rice University (Houston, Texas) will develop a correlation between nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging and special core analysis on core samples of formation material. This will provide a means of calibration between the log response and the desired rock and fluid properties. NMR well-logging provides a record of formation porosity, permeability, irreducible water saturation, oil saturation, and viscosity using several default assumptions. The project will develop interpretations for reservoirs that do not satisfy the usual assumptions inherent in the interpretation methods. Researchers will also investigate the mechanism of oil recovery by wettability alteration and the relative permeability on non-water wet systems. Wettability has a strong effect on oil recovery, but is not well understood on a reservoir level. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,053,757)

  • Reservoir Efficiency Processes

    The 14 projects in this research area will improve enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques to access the billions of barrels of oil that today are left behind in the nation's oil fields. During primary oil recovery, the natural pressure of a reservoir drives oil into the wellbore, and artificial lift techniques, such as pumps, bring the oil to the surface. But only about 10 percent of a reservoir's original oil is typically produced during primary recovery. Secondary recovery techniques that use an injected fluid to increase reservoir pressure and keep the oil flowing to the wellbore increase recovery to 15 percent to 40 percent. With much of the easy-to-produce oil gone from U.S. oil fields, EOR techniques -- which not only restore formation pressure, but also alter the original properties of the oil to improve fluid flow in the reservoir -- offer prospects for ultimately producing 30 percent to 60 percent of a reservoir's original oil.

    Two of the selected projects in this research area will focus on improving chemical flooding:

  • California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, Calif.) will develop cost-effective chemical formulations to recover incremental oil beyond a waterflood operation from carbonate reservoirs. Adding the right surfactants to the injection water will decrease the interfacial tension and change the wettability of the carbonate reservoir surfaces to increase the penetration into the rock matrix holding trapped oil. Researchers will apply a novel testing method to rapidly screen possible surfactant formulations and identify those with the capability to alter the surface wettability to become water-wet. These tests with be augmented with more detailed laboratory testing and a theoretical study to link surfactant performance and chemical structure. ChevronTexaco and Akzo Nobel Surface Chemistry, LLC will be industrial collaborators for this project. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $958,866)
  • University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) will use pH-triggered polymers that can be placed deep into the water-bearing parts of a reservoir. The polymer solution, which has a low viscosity at low pH, flows into zones containing water because the effective permeability to water is highest in these zones. As the pH of the zone increases due to the buffering capacity of the reservoir rock, the polymer solution undergoes a liquid-to-gel transition, causing a sharp increase in the thickness of the polymer solution in these zones. This results in much better mobility control. The use of this polymer in conjunction with CO2 flooding will be investigated in detail since a combination of the two offers some unique synergistic benefits. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,044,595)

  • Four projects will improve microbial flooding:

  • California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, Calif.) will use recent breakthroughs in directed-enzyme-evolution technology to develop bio-systems that can make surfactants for conventional surfactant-flooding EOR at lower cost, and to create improved bio-systems for in situ microbial enhanced oil recovery (MEOR). To meet the first objective, researchers will enhance the activity of surfactant-manufacturing bacteria using inexpensive substrates such as cheap food or waste streams. To meet the second objective, researchers will use genetic bioengineering to clone a highly active surfactant-manufacturing gene into heat-tolerant bacteria acclimated to oil reservoir conditions. ChevronTexaco will collaborate with the California Institute of Technology in this investigation to provide an industrial perspective to this project. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $958,482)
  • University of Kansas Center for Research (Lawrence, Kan.) will evaluate the use of low-cost biosurfactants produced from high-starch agriculture process waste to improve oil recovery in fractured carbonate reservoirs. Specifically, the project will examine the ability of the biosurfactants to mediate wettability changes that positively affect oil recovery in fractured carbonate rock by accelerating the spontaneous imbibition process during waterflooding. The successful completion of this project will not only increase domestic oil production by enabling recovery of previously stranded oil, but it will also benefit the environment by promoting the beneficial reuse of agriculture process waste products. The research will be a joint effort between the Tertiary Oil Recovery Project at the University of Kansas, and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,000,000)
  • University of Oklahoma (Norman, Okla.) will conduct research to move biosurfactant-mediated oil recovery from laboratory investigations to actual field applications. To do this, it must be determined whether biosurfactant producers exist in reservoirs, and the conditions under which they make the biosurfactant in situ. The objectives of the project are to determine the prevalence of biosurfactant producers in oil reservoirs, the nutritional and flow regimes that turn on in situ biosurfactant production, the importance of biofilms for biosurfactant production, and whether biosurfactant production can be selectively stimulated in natural oilfield microbial communities. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $885,820)
  • University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) will develop a specific understanding of biofilm growth in porous media and its quantitative relationship to the efficiency of oil displacement at the reservoir scale. The research will integrate recent results from long-term research initiatives with new data to be obtained in laboratory-scale experiments conducted with an explicit reservoir engineering perspective. Researchers will also undertake a novel inventory of the microbes inhabiting reservoirs so that technical feasibility of improved oil recovery can be better assessed. The project addresses the simplest version of MEOR and the one most to prove practical: promoting in situ microbe growth so that biomass occludes pores, thereby reducing permeability and causing injected water to be redirected to unswept zones.(Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $783,155)

  • One project was selected to improve recovery of difficult-to-produce heavy oil:

  • Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.) will focus on three broad task areas: cold production, viscous waterflooding, and thermal recovery. The goal of the project is to provide midterm research to efficiently produce the abundant, discovered heavy-oil resources of the United States that are not accessible with current technology and recovery techniques. The research will employ experiments, theory development, and numerical modeling to elucidate heavy-oil production mechanisms. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $667,782)

  • Four projects will focus on improving reservoir simulation:

  • Advanced Resources International Inc. (Houston, Texas) will develop a Visual Basic, Windows-compatible computer interface program integrating the Energy Department's free BOAST II simulation tool with inexpensive, commercially available Monte Carlo simulation software. The capabilities of the new application, such as history matching, uncertainty evaluation, and probabilistic forecasting, will be demonstrated on a pre-existing data set. The program is expected to benefit industry through better oilfield management, improved oil recovery, better understanding of uncertainty, and more robust reserve reporting. (Project duration: 2 years; Total award value: $267,592)
  • Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.) will complete the development of a novel compositional streamline simulator by extending current two-phase multi-component solvers to three-phase flows, and by implementing adaptive strategies that further improve the simulator's performance. The research will be divided into a design and development phase, a test and redesign phase, and a full-field application phase. The simulator is expected to improve the accuracy and efficiency required for day-to-day assessment of EOR process performance and CO2-sequestration projects. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,009,720)
  • University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah) will create a parallel, general purpose, finite-element simulator capable of modeling highly complex geometries and complicated wells, and able to simulate most physical processes in reservoir development. The simulator will advance the three-dimensional, three-phase, black oil, finite-element simulator previously developed at the University of Utah. Technology transfer will be aggressive, and will consist of written reports, technical presentations, workshops, and product distribution. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,000,000)
  • The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) will develop a mechanistic simulation tool by adapting the UTCHEM general-purpose chemical simulator to model the wettability alteration in both conventional and naturally fractured reservoirs. This natural and powerful extension to UTCHEM will help oil producers better understand and predict recovery mechanisms as a function of wettability. The work will be based on the knowledge and laboratory results gained from the University of Texas at Austin's collaboration with researchers at Rice University. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $561,651)

  • Three projects will focus on reducing the amount of oil bypassed during gas flooding:

  • University of Oklahoma (Norman, Okla.) will study the effectiveness of CO2 flooding in a mature reservoir to identify and develop methods and strategies to improve oil recovery in CO2 floods. The project objective is to develop a methodology to improve sweep efficiency and reduce CO2 utilization rates by performing a detailed post-mortem on a mature CO2 project that relates actual reservoir performance with predicted performance. The University of Oklahoma will partner with Denbury Resources to evaluate CO2 displacement efficiency in the Little Creek Field in Mississippi. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $993,386)
  • University of Houston (Houston, Texas) will evaluate sweep efficiency of various miscible processes in a laboratory model and develop numberical tools to estimate them in fields. Their approach will be three-pronged. First, miscible and near-miscible compositions of solvents will be identified for displacing light- to medium-viscosity oils by slimtube/coreflood tests. Second, a laboratory model will be constructed that can operate at reservoir pressure with reservoir fluids. Sweep efficiency in the model will be evaluated as a function of oil properties, solvent composition, mobility control agents, injection schedule, and well architecture. Third, a numerical model will be developed to model the complex phase behavior as well as the complex reservoir heterogeneity in the laboratory model and in the field. Solvent composition, mobility control method, and well architecture that improve sweep efficiency will be identified. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $775,651)
  • University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) will perform a novel fundamental study of the mechanism of dispersion, develop an improved multiscale statistical model of dispersion, and use this advance in understanding to optimize field-scale displacements. In laboratory experiments, investigators will measure overall dispersivity (at the centimeter scale) by traditional means, and local dispersivity (at the micron scale) with novel microsensors that can sense solute concentrations in individual pores. The information will be interpreted with a novel form of streamline modeling that explicitly accounts for the spectrum of possibilities at the pore-to-core scale of transport. This research will be the first detailed examination of the effect of dispersion by direct input of dispersivity coefficients. These capabilities will enable development of better methods for translating laboratory test results to field projects. (Project duration: 3 years; Total award value: $1,000,000)

  • Delivery Reliability for Natural Gas

    Six projects were chosen in this research area to develop advanced technologies that will maintain and enhance the integrity, reliability, and security of the Nation's natural gas transmission and distribution network. More than a million miles of natural-gas transmission and distribution pipelines serve over 175 million customers in the United States. Maintaining these pipelines is essential to ensure the availability of clean, affordable energy for our homes, businesses, and industries.

    Three projects will develop inspection technologies to enhance assessment of transmission and distribution facilities:

  • Foster-Miller Inc. (Waltham, Mass.) will construct and test an integrated, inline robotic platform called RoboScan to inspect gas transmission and distribution pipelines that cannot currently be inspected with inline robots. The system will be able to self-adjust and align itself to navigate through plug valves, diameter reductions and expansions, smooth bends, mitered bends, and back-to-back, in-plane bends. RoboScan is intended to provide the gas industry with a safe, reliable, cost-effective solution to meet new inspection requirements. Partners include GE/PII Pipeline Solution and Northeast Gas Association. (Project duration: 2 years; Total award value: $3,499,937)
  • Gas Technology Institute (Des Plaines, Ill.) will design, fabricate, and text innovative sensor technologies for enhanced pipeline assessment. They will focus on three technology advancements: remote field eddy current sensors to monitor pipeline corrosion from the inside, miniaturized inline sensors to measure gas energy, and robust onboard power and communications technologies to support robotic platforms. (Project duration 3 years; Total award value: $1,948,897)
  • Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, Texas) will develop miniaturized sensors to determine the amount and rate of internal corrosion in pipelines. These wireless, encapsulated sensors will be introduced into the gas stream to reach areas that traditional inline robots cannot. This technology advance will significantly improve the quality and accuracy of internal corrosion detection, reduce the need for excavations, and prevent incidents before they occur. (Project duration 2 years; Total award value: $590,330)

  • One project will develop remote-sensing technologies for high-altitude leak detection:

  • Physical Sciences Inc. (Andover, Mass.) will develop and demonstrate cost-effective and power-efficient advanced remote-sensing technology able to detect and quantify, from an unmanned aerial vehicle, natural gas leaking from high-pressure pipelines. Investigators will deploy their already-proven handheld laser-based leak detection technology into unmanned aerial vehicles. If successful, these vehicles will be able to achieve leak detection from altitudes in excess of 50,000 feet, facilitating rapid, accurate inspections over large and remote areas. The technology will also provide a new capability for emergency disaster response. (Project duration 2 years; Total award value: $561,389)

  • Two projects will develop next-generation technologies and methodologies to improve the efficiency, reliability, and integrity of natural gas transmission and distribution:

  • Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, Texas) will develop the next generation of reciprocating compressor technology to enhance the efficiency, reliability, and integrity of pipeline operations through improved compression. An "intelligent compression technology suite" will be designed to monitor real-time compressor conditions while in operation, and to automatically make adjustments to maximize performance. Researchers will advance the technology in five specific areas: pulsation control; capacity control; valves; sensors and automation; and systems integration. Partners include the Gas Machinery Research Council, which comprises representatives of all U.S. pipeline owners and their equipment and service providers. (Project duration 5 years; Total award value: $4,000,000)
  • Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colo.) will demonstrate the effectiveness of retrofitting existing pipeline compressor engines to increase the capacity of the Nation's existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure without adding new compressor units. Using new, cost-effective retrofit technologies, researchers hope to increase power output, fuel efficiency, and durability, while reducing the environmental impact of compressor engines. Partners include Gas Technology Institute, Pipeline Research Council International Inc., and the Dresser-Rand Company. (Project duration 2 years; Total award value: $660,000)
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