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DOE to award $28M to 15 research projects on producing natural gas from shales and tight sands

2 December 2012

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected 15 research projects aimed at addressing the technical challenges of producing natural gas from shales and tight sands, while simultaneously reducing environmental footprints and risks, to receive a total of $28 million in funding from the Office of Fossil Energy (FE).

The projects, valued at just over $36.6 million over two years, add to the research portfolio for FE’s Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources Research Program, which develops technologies and strategies to improve the safety and minimize the environmental impacts of oil and natural gas exploration and production.

The projects will address research needs primarily in four categories:

  1. reduced environmental impacts;
  2. improved water handling and treating methods;
  3. enhanced characterization of shales; and
  4. improved understanding of the hydraulic fracturing process.

Projects range from testing innovative technologies for cleaning fracture flowback water, to finding new ways to improve casing cement jobs, to increasing the understanding of the relationship between underground water disposal and induced seismicity.

Approximately $8.6 million of the total value of the projects is provided via cost-share by the research partners, in addition to $28 million in federal funds. The research contracts will be administered by the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), under the management of FE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. The projects selected include:

Lead organization Description Funding shares and Duration
GSI Environmental, Inc. Reducing the Environmental Impact of Gas Shale Development: Advanced Analytical Methods for Air and Stray Gas Emissions and Produced Brine Characterization. The research team will develop practical and cost-effective methods to address three environmental risks associated with shale gas development: potential emissions of volatile air contaminants from produced water impoundments, potential impacts of methane and other gases on groundwater resources, and ineffective treatment, disposal, or reuse of produced water. The research products will be scientifically based protocols for effective sampling, analysis, and interpretation of data during monitoring of waste streams. DOE: $1,542,193
Recipient: $510,000
Duration: 1 year
CSI Technologies, Inc. Development of Methods to Prohibit and Remediate Loss of Annular Isolation in Shale Gas Wells: Prevention and Remediation of Sustained Casing Pressure and Other Isolation Breaches. The objectives of this project include the evaluation of sealants and devices capable of shutting off or preventing the formation of pathways for fluid communication in the casing/borehole annulus, and field testing of preventive and remedial protocols in both the Fayetteville and Marcellus shale plays. DOE: $4,005,930
Recipient: $2,700,000
Duration: 2 years
The University of Texas at Austin Relationships Between Induced Seismicity and Fluid Injection: Development of Strategies to Manage Fluid Disposal in Shale Hydrocarbon Plays. The research team will seek to learn why fluid disposal induces earthquakes in some areas and not in others, with the aim of developing improved injection technology that optimizes disposal volume and cost while avoiding induced seismicity. The project includes a survey of seismic activity in four basins; acquisition of data concerning injection locations, histories, and volumes; spatial and temporal correlation analysis of injection and earthquake activity; collection of structural data in study areas that show different levels of seismic activity; geomechanical and statistical analysis; and development of improved injection strategies. DOE: $963,792
Recipient: $259,123
Duration: 2 years
University of Southern California Water Handling and Enhanced Productivity from Gas Shales. Using a combination of computer modeling, field tests, and laboratory experiments utilizing Marcellus Shale core samples, researchers will seek to improve understanding of the interactions between shale and fracturing fluids, and the impacts of such interactions on well productivity. The results will provide new guidelines on optimal choices for hydraulic fracturing treatment design and the treatment and reuse of fracture flowback water. DOE: $1,741,215
Recipient: $506,027
Duration: 2 years
Colorado State University Development of GIS-Based Tool for Optimized Fluid Management in Shale Operations. The researchers will develop a GIS-based tool for optimizing fluids management decisions during shale gas development and production in the Wattenberg field in northeastern Colorado. Products will include case studies, user manuals, and online training materials to allow the tools to be applied in other natural gas basins. DOE: $1,395,949
Recipient: $289,898
Duration: 2 years
Southern Research Institute Advanced Treatment of Shale Gas Frac Water to Produce NPDES Quality Water. The goal of this project is further development and optimization of four advanced water treatment technologies: two for fracturing flowback water treatment and two for treatment and disposal of residual high solid slurry and concentrated brine. The technologies are magnetic ballast clarification, vortex-generating and nanofiltration membranes, hydrogel adsorption, and a combination of precipitation, solidification and stabilization. DOE: $2,488,919
Recipient: $289,898
Duration: 2 years
Ohio University Cost-Effective Treatment of Flowback and Produced Waters Via an Integrated Precipitative Supercritical (IPSC) Process. The objective of this project is to validate the performance and cost-effectiveness of the IPSC process to convert fracture flowback and produced water generated by unconventional shale gas wells into a clean water product. This technology combines ultraviolet light treatment, chemical precipitation, and an advanced supercritical reactor incorporating a hydrocarbon reforming catalyst. DOE: $1,936,630
Recipient: $500,160
Duration: 2 years
Battelle Memorial Institute Development of Subsurface Brine Disposal Framework in the Northern Appalachian Basin. This project will address the need for subsurface brine disposal options in the PA-OH-WV-KY area by compiling geological and reservoir data, developing geocellular models from logs and seismic data, and carrying out advanced reservoir and geomechanical simulations to better understand the geologic setting, reservoir dynamics, geomechanical issues, and subsurface effects of brine disposal. Maps, geologic cross sections, an inventory of reservoir parameters, and practical guidance for injection operations will constitute the final deliverables. DOE: $1,569,592
Recipient: $402,732
Duration: 2 years
Drexel University Development of Plasma Technology for the Management of Frac/Produced Water. The objective of this project is to further develop an integrated plasma water treatment system for improved management of fracturing flowback and produced water. The system will include plasma-induced water softening, plasma-assisted self-cleaning filtration, and vapor-compression distillation. DOE: $1,574,690
Recipient: $395,060
Duration: 2 years
Colorado School of Mines Advancing a Web-Based Tool for Unconventional Natural Gas Development with Focus on Flowback and Produced Water Characterization, Treatment and Beneficial Use. The research team will develop a set of web-based tools that will support producers, regulators, and others in the effort to characterize, treat, beneficially use, and manage produced water and fracturing flowback water. Key elements include improved understanding of chemical compositions of flowback and produced waters, models to predict variability of produced water quality, a database of water qualities and quantities, and case studies from industry partners that illustrate and validate application of the tools. DOE: $286,984
Recipient: $106,796
Duration: 3 years
The University of Texas, Bureau of Economic Geology Understanding and Managing Environmental Roadblocks to Shale Gas Development: An Analysis of Shallow Gas, NORMs, and Trace Metals (Texas). The objectives of this study are to (1) enhance understanding of shallow gas deposits, naturally occurring radioactive materials, and metals (to better characterize the potential risk of groundwater contamination); and (2) enhance understanding of the nature and variability of fracturing flowback water (to better adjust and optimize flowback treatment). DOE: $1,300,504
Recipient: $325,144
Duration: 2 years
Oklahoma State University Petrophysics and Tight Rock Characterization for the Application of Improved Stimulation and Production Technology in Shale. The project team will develop new analytical standards for petrophysical characterization of shale and new analytical methods that can reduce cost and increase the reproducibility and reliability of shale characterization results. DOE: $1,529,702
Recipient: $383,850
Duration: 2 years
Texas A&M University Conductivity of Complex Fracturing in Unconventional Shale Reservoirs. The research team will conduct experiments to determine the effect of proppant type, size, and concentration on fracture conductivity in the Barnett, Fayetteville, and Eagle Ford shales. The results will be compared to production history observations to shed light on possible causes of fracture treatment failures and unexpected production performance declines, and to provide guidelines for improving hydraulic fracturing practices in these formations so that fewer wells are needed to develop the resource. DOE: $883,507
Recipient: $220,877
Duration: 2 years
Texas A&M University Fracture Permeability Caused by Shear Slip in Gas Shale Reservoirs. The objectives of this project are to investigate fracture permeability generation in shale, quantify how the fracture permeability changes with normal and shear stress and assess permeability regain when gas flows after shear slip by water pressure. The results will improve the ability to utilize the self-propping character of natural fractures to improve the performance of hydraulically fractured wells and to develop more efficient and less impactful well-stimulation designs. DOE: $622,115
Recipient: $155,528
Duration: 2 years
Gas Technology Institute Advanced Hydraulic Fracturing. The research team will (1) develop a real-time hydraulic fracturing control methodology through coupled analysis of geophysical fracture diagnostic data and pumping pressure, rate, and fluid density; and (2) verify the results through extensive production testing. The work will produce improved guidelines for environmentally safe and economically optimal fracture stimulation of low permeability reservoirs, including the acquisition and use of high-resolution microseismic data for fracture mapping. DOE: $6,201,731
Recipient: $1,565,000
Duration: 2 years

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