The U.S. Department of Energy (Doe) is investing nearly $8 million in a research project into unconventional oil and natural gas geology of the Paradox Basin in eastern Utah and western Colorado.
Local partners, including the University of Utah, will provide an additional $2 million for the project.
Researchers will characterize the regional geology, stress regime, fracture networks and optimal stimulation practice to enable full production in the Paradox oil play that also spills into northern Arizona and New Mexico.
The Paradox play has the potential to be an important economic resource to boost U.S. oil and gas production, the federal agency said.
Most federal money
The Utah research is getting the most federal money going to a single project announced in late June by Doe. It is funding four major research projects in potential U.S. shale plays.
Research projects were also approved in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana (a total project of $20.9 million), the Caney Shale in Oklahoma ($11.4 million) and the Conasauga Shale in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia ($7.7 million).
$44.5 million into 12
Doe put $44.5 million into 12 research projects to boost our knowledge of unconventional oil and gas resources and to improve ultimate recovery from unconventional oil and gas resources. The partners have contributed another $25 million. That brings the total investment of the 12 projects to just under $70 million.
“Improving the recovery efficiency from oil and natural gas plays is critical to maximizing U.S. energy production,” said Steven Winberg, assistant secretary for Fossil Energy in the Doe, in a statement.
Improving recovering efficiency
Doe seeks to enhance the characterization and improve the recovery efficiency of emerging unconventional oil and natural gas reservoirs that are vital to increasing U.S. energy production.
In 2018, crude oil and natural gas accounted for 57% of all U.S. energy production with crude oil increasing by 17% and natural gas increasing by 12% from 2017 production, the Doe reported.
Grants for eight other projects to improve ultimate recovery from unconventional oil and gas resources went to Clemson University, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the University of Texas at Austin, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Oklahoma State University, Battelle Memorial Institute and MagicQ Technologies, and the University of Kansas Center for Research.
Using Ngls as fracking fluid
For example, Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, is getting $2.4 million in Doe funds, to use unrefined natural gas liquids as a fracturing fluid. Using Ngls could increase production from unconventional oil and natural gas reservoirs, the Doe said.
This project will provide near-term value for accelerating production in many unconventional reservoirs and provide operators with a roadmap to expand production from unconventional plays, it said.
The Utah project in the Paradox Basin will collect data from three major operators in the basin, including advanced datasets and wells for sampling, analysis and testing.
Predicting natural fractures
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.
To date, more than 450 million barrels (Mmbbl) of oil have been produced from shallow-shelf carbonate reservoirs in the basin, mostly from conventional, vertical-only, wells.
Most of the 100-plus oilfields in the basin typically contain 2 to 10 Mmbbl of original oil in place, but only 15% to 20% of that oil is recoverable during primary production.
Crude oil abounds at Cane Creek
The Cane Creek Shale has been a target for exploration periodically since the 1960s, and has produced oil from several small fields. The play generated increased interest in the early 1990s with the successful use of horizontal drilling.
The U.S. Geological Survey has said the undiscovered oil in the Cane Creek Shale was 103 Mmbbl at 95% confidence, and 198 Mmbbl at a 50% confidence level.
Most of the Paradox Basin oilfields are characterized by extremely high initial production, followed by a short production life and early abandonment.
Paradox Basin located in 2 states
Second/tertiary recovery techniques are being used in the Paradox Basin. At least 200 Mmbbl of oil are at risk of being left behind in the basin, geological experts have said.
The basin lies in five Utah counties: Emery, Garfield, Grand, San Juan and Wayne, and in four Colorado counties: Dolores, Mesa, Montezuma and San Miguel.
In the Powder River Basin, researchers at the University of Wyoming will establish a low-permeability oilfield laboratory to look at two developing shale oil formations: the Mowry Shale and the Belle Fourche Shale.
The research will also look at the oil-bearing Frontier tight sandstones.
The goal is to accelerate development of those resources through detailed geological characterization and improved geologic models that could lead to advances in well completion and fracture stimulation designs.
The Mowry Shale is found in Wyoming and five other states and is what federal officials call a self-contained petroleum system. Estimates are Mowry contains 1.2 billion barrels of oil and 2.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Federal funds: $7.8 million.
In Oklahoma, researchers from Oklahoma State University will establish a field laboratory in the emerging Caney Shale. The facility will be located in southern Oklahoma to conduct a comprehensive field characterization.
The project will experiment and validate cost-effective technologies leading to a comprehensive development plan for the Caney Shale. That work will determine of more-ductile shales similar to the Caney can be produced economically.
The Caney Shale is found near the Texas-Oklahoma border in the Arkoma Basin. It is the stratigraphic equivalent of the Barnett Shale in North Texas.
It has been a gas-producing formation.
Federal funds: $7.8 million
In Kentucky, the University of Kentucky Research Foundation will advance the development of the Conasauga Shale in Kentucky and West Virginia through creation of the Conasauga Shale Research Consortium (Csrc).
The Csrc website and data portal will provide all existing public data on the Conasauga Shale.
The project will gather data and test well completion designs in theoretical models and in a field application at a horizontal well in Lawrence County in eastern Kentucky. The project will also review past efforts and data analytics to help direct future operations.
Test wells have been drilled in the formation’s Rogersville Shale in eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia with disappointing results.
Federal funds: $6.1 million
The projects will all be managed by Doe’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (Netl).