US DOE To Fund 12 R&D Projects To Boost Unconventional Characterization, Recovery

Twelve organizations—universities and private technology companies—will conduct research and development on emerging shale plays and technologies covering everything from digital pressure-sensing to smart microchip proppant.

Chevron Appalachia visits the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh. NETL will oversee the newest dozen of unconventional R&D projects funded by the US Energy Department. Source: NETL.

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The US Department of Energy (DOE) said it will direct $44.5 million in federal funding to 12 unconventional research and development (R&D) projects intended to improve characterization and develop technologies that will boost recovery.

DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) will manage the projects, which will be carried out by several public universities as well as a pair of private technology development companies. The projects are classified as those looking to advance knowledge of emerging plays and those finding methods to improve ultimate recovery.

Improving the Understanding of Emerging Unconventional Plays

  • Improving oil production in the emerging Paradox play: The University of Utah will characterize the regional geology, stress regime, fracture networks, and optimal stimulation practices to enable full production of the Paradox oil play. The project will collect data from three major operators in the basin, including advanced datasets and wells for sampling, analysis, and testing. The team will create discrete fracture network and geomechanical models, which will be used to predict the occurrence of natural fractures and faults and forecast the effectiveness of novel stimulation approaches.

DOE funding: $7,999,865Non-DOE funding: $2,000,000
Total value: $9,999,865

  • Unlocking low-permeability oil reservoirs of the Powder River Basin: The University of Wyoming will establish a low-permeability oilfield laboratory in the Powder River Basin that will be used to characterize and overcome the technical challenges of developing two emerging shale oil formations—the Mowry shale and the Belle Fourche shale member—as well as the oil-bearing Frontier tight sandstone. The goal is to accelerate development of these resources through detailed geologic characterization and improved geologic models, leading to advances in well completion and fracture stimulation designs.

DOE funding: $7,877,154Non-DOE funding: $13,075,251
Total value: $20,952,405

  • Field evaluation of the Caney Shale as an emerging play: Oklahoma State University will establish a field laboratory focused on the Caney Shale in southern Oklahoma to conduct a comprehensive field characterization. The project will experiment and validate cost-effective technologies leading to a comprehensive development strategy plan for the Caney, and it will determine if more-ductile shales similar to the Caney can be produced economically.

DOE funding: $7,790,979Non-DOE funding: $3,581,800
Total value: $11,372,779

  • Establishing the Conasauga Shale Research Consortium (CSRC): The University of Kentucky Research Foundation will advance development of the Conasauga group in Kentucky and West Virginia. The project will gather data and test well-completion designs in both theoretical models and in a field application at a horizontal well drilled in Lawrence County, Kentucky. The CSRC website and data portal will provide all existing public data on the Conasauga Shale.

DOE funding: $6,064,085Non-DOE funding: $1,706,988
Total value: $7,771,073

Improving Ultimate Recovery From Unconventional Resources

  • Smart microchip proppant technology for precision diagnostics of hydraulic fracture networks: The University of Kansas Center for Research will develop sensor technology for improved subsurface characterization, visualization, and diagnostics of unconventional reservoirs. The technology, which offers precision diagnostics of hydraulic fractures with a novel high-resolution imaging technology based on smart microchip proppant, addresses critical gaps in understanding of unconventional shale reservoir behavior and optimal well completion strategies.

DOE funding: $2,500,000Non-DOE funding: $1,000,000
Total value: $3,500,000

  • Enabling cost-effective, high-quality seismic monitoring of unconventional reservoirs with fiber optics: MagiQ Technologies will produce and field test a cost-effective optical seismic sensor system. The project seeks to demonstrate full operation of the system in an environment where conventional sensors are difficult and expensive to deploy because of high temperatures, large depths, and complicated drilling, completion, and stimulation programs.

DOE funding: $2,500,000Non-DOE funding: $625,000
Total value: $3,125,000

  • Using natural gas liquids to recover unconventional oil and gas: Battelle Memorial Institute will develop a method for using unrefined NGLs as fracturing fluid. The project is intended to provide near-term value for accelerating production in many unconventional reservoirs and provide operators with a roadmap to expand production from unconventional plays.

DOE funding: $2,447,725Non-DOE funding: $711,734
Total value: $3,159,459

  • Large-volume stimulation of rock for enhanced fluids recovery using targeted seismic-assisted hydraulic fracturing: Oklahoma State University will develop technology for large-volume and targeted comminution of rock in low-permeability formations. Comminution is the action of reducing the particles of a material into a smaller size; bulk comminution is expected to cause a big increase in permeability, leading to enhanced recovery factors for subsurface fluids. The project combines an integrated experimental and computational approach to develop a modular technology that can be easily implemented in the field.

DOE funding: $1,500,000Non-DOE funding: $375,000
Total value: $1,875,000

  • All-digital sensor system for distributed downhole pressure monitoring: Clemson University will develop and validate a low-cost, digital pressure sensing technology for in-situ distributed downhole pressure monitoring in unconventional oil and gas reservoirs. Data resulting from tool deployment will enhance the understanding of reservoir behavior, enable optimized stimulation and production, improve recovery efficiency, and expand development of emerging plays.

DOE funding: $1,500,000Non-DOE funding: $375,000
Total value: $1,875,000

  • Fully distributed acoustic and magnetic field monitoring via a single fiber line for optimized production: Virginia Tech University will develop distributed seismic and electromagnetic sensing technology to enable real-time fracture diagnostics and optimized stimulation and production. The novel system will provide measurements with contrast, spatial resolution, and functionality not yet realized by other techniques.

DOE funding: $1,499,999Non-DOE funding: $375,000
Total value: $1,874,999

  • A multi-physics approach for near-real-time remote monitoring of dynamic changes in pressure and salinity in hydraulically fractured networks: The University of Texas will demonstrate remote monitoring of geochemistry and pore pressure, advance the development of electromagnetic imaging tools, and develop a multi-physics joint inversion package for precise prediction of changes in flow patterns and physiochemical changes. The technology will lead to an enhanced understanding of proppant-filled fracture networks, formation stress state, fluid leak-off and invasion, and characterization of engineered systems in real time.

DOE funding: $1,499,989Non-DOE funding: $376,662
Total value: $1,876,651


  • Dynamic binary complexes as super-adjustable viscosity modifiers for hydraulic fracturing fluids: The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station will develop novel viscosifiers called “dynamic binary complex” (DBCs) with improved viscosities for use in hydraulic fracturing fluids. The project will also investigate properties of DBC-based fracturing fluids and interactions of DBCs with commonly used proppant. These improved viscosifiers can be used under elevated temperatures, pressures, and salinity.

DOE funding: $1,470,566Non-DOE funding: $369,742
Total value: $1,840,308

NETL’s catalog of active unconventional research projects includes the Hydraulic Fracturing Test Site targeting the Upper and Middle Wolfcamp formation in the Permian Basin’s Midland sub-Basin as well as Hydraulic Fracturing Test Site II in the Permian’s Delaware sub-Basin.