Beyond fracking: University of Wyoming scientists look for ways to boost oil and gas production by Benjamin Storrow, December 18, 2013, Wyoming Star Tribune
Scientists at the University of Wyoming are looking at new ways to improve oil and gas recovery even further. … Techniques like fracking and horizontal drilling usually help recover between 4 to 12 percent of the oil and gas those formations are estimated to contain, leaving a significant prize left trapped within the ground. “What we want is to go beyond horizontal drilling and fracking,” said Vladimir Alvarado, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Wyoming. “That is a starting point … How do we access more? That is the real R&D question.” The university researchers like Alvarado have a significant partner in their quest. ExxonMobil donated $2.5 million to the School of Energy Resources Improved Oil and Gas Recovery program in February. The state made a matching $2.5 million contribution of its own.
So how does one go about improving oil and gas production in shale formations? … The idea is to get chemists, geologists, petroleum engineers, physicists and computational scientists – to name a few – speaking the same language, Alvarado said. Something is lost in translation when, say, an engineer is trying to describe a problem to a chemist. The two understand a different problem and thus work towards different solutions. … Things get more complicated when it comes to the actual science that might boost production levels. Alvarado likes to talk about “challenging the paradigm” of oil and gas production. What does that mean exactly? Traditionally, as oil fields mature operators turn to what are essentially cleaning solutions to glean oil stuck to the rock. But instead of cleaning oil from the rock, Alvarado and his team are focusing on how to improve oil mobility. Basically, they want to improve oil flow so more of it flows out of the reservoir. Doing that requires fine-tuning of the chemical concoction injected into the reservoir, he said. Yet that is only half of Alvarado’s attempt to shake up the paradigm. The other half relies on when that chemical concoction is injected in the reservoir. Instead of waiting to inject the chemical until later in the field’s operating life, as is often the case now, the chemical should be injected at the beginning, he said.
Shale gas offers a template for improving shale oil production, Alvarado said. Gas production is relatively simple compared to oil production, but often times the reservoir are similar, mean similar production methods can be used in both. “We learned to do the extended horizontal wells from shale gas. We just borrowed that technology to do shale oil,” Alvarado said. “The massive number of fracking stages in shale gas, we just transferred that to shale oil.” [Epmhasis added]