DOE to Help Develop Energy Exploration Tools & Technologies

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham has announced awards for five new cost-shared research projects to help meet the Nation's growing demand for natural gas. The new projects, supported by $4.2 million in Energy Department funding, will develop advanced diagnostic tools and technologies to reduce the risk in exploration and development of deeper gas and tight fractured reservoirs.

"As America's demand for natural gas grows, we will increasingly turn to resources that stretch the limits of today's technology," Secretary Abraham said. "By investing in technology development, the Department of Energy helps to ensure a reliable, affordable, and environmentally sound supply of domestic natural gas for the future. Our energy security will be directly enhanced by these technologies."

Natural gas demand in the United States is forecast to grow by 50 percent by 2025. A recent study by the National Petroleum Council concludes that adding new North American natural gas supplies will require finding, developing, and producing more technologically challenging resources than ever before. The natural gas resources that will be found and developed over the next 25 years will be located in increasingly remote and technologically challenging geographic locations.

The newly selected projects will help meet future needs by developing tools and technologies to remotely identify gas reservoirs and reservoir properties in deep exploration settings, as well as to help maximize production in existing fields.

One project target is reservoirs at depths greater than 15,000 feet in the shallow-water, deep-gas plays of the Gulf of Mexico. The Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service recently increased its estimate of recoverable gas located in the Gulf of Mexico's shallow water by 175 percent. The new estimate is 55 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas at 15,000 feet and deeper, below the outer continental shelf in water depths up to 650 feet.

The projects also target deep portions of interior U.S. basins -- including the Greater Green River, Wind River, Anadarko, Appalachian, and Uinta basins -- where gas resources are even more abundant. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that deep gas reservoirs will supply 135 Tcf of technically recoverable gas. A recent Energy Department assessment of marginal, subeconomic resources in the Greater Green River and Wind River basins of the Rocky Mountains estimated that more than 1,000 Tcf of in-place gas exists below 15,000 feet, mainly in tight gas sands.

The new projects will be managed for the Energy Department by the Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory. The projects are described below:

  • 3DGeo Development Inc. (Houston, Texas) will use state-of-the-art methodologies such as wave-equation migration, angle-gathers velocity model building, and wave-equation illumination and amplitude compensation technology to improve image resolution and reservoir characterization of ultradeep geologic structures. Application of these methodologies to new long-offset seismic data could improve definition of hydrocarbon reservoirs in geologically complex fields, both structurally and in terms of associated rocks, fluid distributions, and rock-fluid interactions. Advanced imaging will improve success rate and cost effectiveness for new deep-field discoveries, and increase recovery efficiency for existing field development. (Project duration: 18 months; Total award value: $625,128)

  • Paulsson Geophysical Services Inc. (Brea, Calif.) will develop and test a robust multicomponent sensor that combines fiber optic and micro-electro mechanical systems technology (FOMEMS) for use in a borehole seismic array. The use of FOMEMS-based sensors will enable a dramatic increase in the number of sensors that can be deployed simultaneously in a borehole seismic array. Denser sampling of the seismic wave field will improve high-resolution reservoir imaging and characterization. Design, packaging, and integration of the multicomponent sensors and deployment system will target a maximum operating temperature of 350–400 ºF and maximum pressure of 15,000–25,000 psi, allowing deployment in deep gas reservoirs. (Project duration: 24 months; Total award value: $2,409,767)

  • RDSP I, L.P. (Houston, Texas) will improve characterization of deep gas reservoirs using inelastic rock properties that result in frequency-dependent wave velocities and intrinsic wave attenuation to discriminate pore fluids and lithology. Using existing data, a new methodology for extracting attenuation attributes from multicomponent seismic data will be developed and tested to identify the presence of natural gas. Drilling for deep gas can be encouraged by removing technical barriers that limit the use of inelastic properties as quantitative reservoir characterization tools. (Project duration: 24 months; Total award value: $1,109,030)

  • Technology International Inc. (Kingwood, Texas) will develop an integrated seismic-while-drilling system to provide real-time pore pressure and seismic imaging ahead of the drill bit. A unique acoustic downhole source using a device located in the center nozzle of a hybrid bit, and powered by a downhole control unit, will be developed and tested. The power control unit will create high voltage inputs to control the magnitude, frequency, and duration of the pulses necessary to create acoustic signals that can be received by a surface monitoring system from depths greater than 15,000 feet. The proposed system will provide, without interfering with normal drilling operations, real-time pore pressure ahead of the bit and at least 200 meters of look-ahead imaging for geologic interpretation while drilling. (Project duration: 24 months; Total award value: $1,069,985)

  • The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas) will evaluate a new marine seismic technology able to image gas resources to depths that have not been possible with previous gas-exploration marine seismic data. The key requirement for seismic imaging of deep-gas targets is a field geometry that creates source-receiver offsets equal to or greater than the target depth. This project will analyze data acquired in the Gulf of Mexico with ocean-bottom-cable technology that enables data to be recorded at offsets of up to 30,000 feet. The four-component sensors used in the technology can improve the geologic characterization of gas resources embedded in deep, overpressured regimes, potentially identifying a significant new gas resource base. (Project duration: 36 months; Total award value: $2,910,872)

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