DOE Adds 3 New Projects to its Deep Trek Program

The need to probe ever deeper to locate and produce the natural gas Americans will need in the future has led the Department of Energy to add three new research projects to its "Deep Trek" program.

"Deep Trek" is a program being carried out by the Energy Department's Office of Fossil Energy to develop "smart" drilling systems tough enough to withstand the extreme conditions of deep reservoirs, yet economical enough to make the natural gas they encounter affordable to produce.

Today, more than 70 percent of gas produced in the continental United States comes from wells 5,000 feet deep or shallower. But as America's demand for clean-burning natural gas increases, drillers will be required to probe much deeper - to 15,000 feet or more where an estimated 125 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is thought to be trapped.

Tapping into this resource is daunting and expensive. As much as half the cost of drilling deeper wells can be spent on just the last 10 to 25 percent of a well's depth where rock formations are harder and temperatures are hotter.

Industry's capability to produce from deeper wells will depend on developing new tools that function effectively three miles or more beneath the earth's surface. The new projects will advance the state-of-the-art for high-temperature electronics and make new "smart drilling technology available to support industry's ongoing development and production in deep gas reservoirs.

"Smart" drilling systems can report key measurements - temperature, pressure, moisture, geology - as a well is drilled. These sophisticated electronic systems can identify potential trouble spots on a real-time basis, allowing operators to make adjustments without interrupting and incurring costly work stoppages.

The three competitively selected projects announced today make up the second set of government-industry co-sponsored Deep Trek projects selected by the department. The first projects were announced last September. DOE is contributing slightly more than $11 million toward the projects. Winning organizations will fund just over $5.5 million. The development efforts will run for three years.

The projects, profiled below, will be managed by the Energy Department's National Energy Technology Laboratory:

Honeywell International,
of Plymouth, Minnesota, will identify and develop a suite of high temperature electronic components that can be used for instrumentation in deep gas drilling systems.

Drilling for natural gas below 15,000 feet has presented the electronics industry with a challenging environment. Locating an instrument for pressure or flow measurement at the end of 3 miles of pipe poses problems for electronics, including withstanding temperatures ranging from 250 degrees F to 437 degrees F for prolonged periods of time. Honeywell hopes to combine and upgrade some of its existing electronics technology to perform in the extremely harsh deep reservoir environment.

Honeywell will conduct the project through its Solid State Electronics Center for Excellence, and will form a Joint Industry Participation group to develop system specifications prior to product development. Potential partners in this group include Schlumberger Technology Corporation of Sugar Land, Texas; Diamond Research of Lafayette, Louisiana; Micropac Industries of Garland, Texas; and E-Spectrum of San Antonio, Texas, as well as other petroleum industry service companies and operators. Total project cost: $8,599,539; DOE share: $6,052,436

Schlumberger Technology Corporation
of Houston, Texas, plans to design and commercialize a high-temperature (approaching 400 degrees F), high-pressure, measurement-while-drilling tool that provides direction, inclination, toolface and gamma ray measurements continuously in real time to improve drilling decisions on the rig. The tool will also be fully retrievable while the drillstring is downhole, eliminating the need to remove the entire drillstring assembly to retrieve directional equipment.

High temperature and high pressure are two of the challenges in deep horizontal wells, and operation in these environments often limits the effectiveness and life of measurement-while-drilling tools. Failures are costly if drilling must stop to remove the pipe and replace a tool. Schlumberger's measurement-while-drilling tool, if successful, will improve the economics for deep well drilling by reducing down time - boosting the overall rate of penetration in deep hostile environments. Total project cost: $5,888,159; DOE share: $3,813,671

Cementing Solutions, Inc. (Watters Engineering)
of Houston, Texas, proposes a combined effort with Argonne National Laboratory and other industry partners to develop "supercement" capable of sealing drill pipe annuli (the space between the drill pipe and the surrounding rock formation) at high temperatures and pressures. The supercement will possess superior pipe and formation-bonding capabilities to ensure a tight annular seal at depths exceeding 15,000 feet.

Industry authorities estimate that repairing failed cement jobs in deep, hot wells costs industry more than $100 million each year. Many failures occur because the Portland cement systems used today cannot stand up to the extreme temperatures, pressures and corrosive gases found in deep reservoirs. The team's supercement will have the tensile strength, permeability, compressive strength and expansive properties required for long-term durability, minimizing the potential for mechanical failures at high temperature (exceeding 350 degrees F) and pressure.

The team's work will begin with laboratory analysis of various Portland and non-Portland materials and mixtures to identify compositions that provide the optimum mechanical properties for withstanding extreme downhole temperatures and pressures. Upscale testing will be done to determine the cement's performance in larger quantities. Finally, a demonstration of the cement's performance will be conducted in three to six field applications in hot, deep wells. Total project cost: $2,489,575; DOE share: $1,509,575


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