With "deeper and denser" likely to become the axiom for tomorrow's
natural gas producers, the Department of Energy is adding five new projects
to its natural gas research program.
For three of the projects, the target is natural gas buried under extremely
hard rock formations, trapped in gas hydrates on the ocean floor, and
in remote regions of the Arctic. The other two explore ways to keep low-volume
"stripper" gas wells flowing and to boost the amount of "working
gas" stored in salt caverns.
The projects are the latest to be selected from a broad-ranging competition
conducted for the Energy Department's Office of Fossil Energy by the National
Energy Technology Laboratory. The five projects have a total value approaching
$7 million, $4.7 million of which will be the federal government's share.
Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA,
will lead two of the projects:
- A Revolutionary Way to Manufacture More Durable Drill
Bits. In the early 1980s, Energy Department research led
to the breakthrough bonding technique that made practical the diamond
drill bits that now bore nearly 40 percent of U.S. wells. In this new
project, Penn State will team with Dennis Tool Company, Houston, TX,
to continue development of what is likely to be the next major advance
in drill bit manufacturing.
The team will advance its microwave sintering process which enhances
the durability of "compositional grade" drill bit materials
formed from diamond composites, tungsten carbide and other metals.
The process takes only 1/10th the time of conventional bonding methods
and produces higher-strength bits that wear longer and have a 20 to
30 percent increase in performance over conventionally made parts.
The bits are also better able to resist acidic corrosion. The manufacturing
process is likely to offer benefits in producing other drilling tools.
Total Project Cost: $646,000 (DOE share: $323,000; participant's
Duration: 2 years
Project Contact: Dinesh Agrawal, (814) 863-8034
- Keeping "Stripper Gas" Flowing.
More than half of the onshore natural gas wells in the lower 48 States
- more than 190,000 wells - are classified as "stripper wells,"
meaning that they produce a very low volume of natural gas. In the last
seven years, more than 30,000 wells have been added to this category,
and many of these wells are being plugged and abandoned even though,
with better technology, they could continue to produce natural gas.
To help identify projects that government and industry can co-fund
to improve the performance of these wells, Penn State and the University
of Tulsa, will form an industry-driven stripper gas well consortium,
recruiting industry and academic members from across the country.
The consortium will identify and fund research in such areas as reservoir
remediation, wellbore cleanup, and surface system upgrades, all areas
that could keep gas stripper wells in production. DOE's funding will
be used for the federal portion of private sector proposals coordinated
through the consortium.
Total Project Cost: $4.3 million (DOE share: $3 million;
participant's share: $1.3 million)
Duration: 3 years
Project Contact: Danelle Kissell, (814) 865-1372
The University of Texas at Austin, Bureau of Economic Geology,
Austin, TX, was selected for a project in the Energy Department's
gas hydrate research program:
- Detecting and Characterizing Gas Hydrates on the Ocean
Floor. Gas hydrates are ice-like crystals that encase
potentially huge supplies of natural gas on the ocean floor. They could
potentially hold as much as 200 times more natural gas than exists in
all the known gas resources in the United States. Yet, no one knows
yet how best to locate hydrate deposits, measure their height, width,
depth and other characteristics, and importantly, whether producing
gas from hydrates could disturb the stability of ocean floors.
In this project, the University of Texas's Bureau of Economic Geology
will use its expertise in multi-component, 3-dimensional seismic imaging
to study hydrates in the Gulf of Mexico. Seismic detectors will be
placed on the ocean bottom to measure artificially-created sound waves
that pulse through the bottom sediments (called "compressional"
waves) and waves that move at various crossing angles (called "shear
waves"). By combining the data received from both types of waves,
researchers can gather more information about the way ocean sediments
are deposited and intersect, how the hydrates and rock types are distributed
through the sediments, and the type of material that fills the microscopic
pores of the hydrate-bearing formation. Data can also be used to calculate
how strong the sediments are bound together which can determine sea
floor stability. This could ultimately enhance the safety of producing
hydrate gas in the deep offshore.
Total Project Cost: $880,000 (DOE share: $700,000; participant's
Duration: 2 years
Project Contact: Bob Hardage, (512) 471-1534
To examine new drilling approaches for the Arctic environment, the Energy
Department has selected the team of NANA Development Corp., and
COMINCO, both of Anchorage, AK, and ARI, Arlington, VA:
- Miniature Mobile Drilling. One of the new
advances in drilling technology is slimhole and microborehole drilling
- concepts in which the borehole is much smaller than in conventional
drilling. The technology can save costs and can result in smaller, more
mobile drilling systems.
In this project, the team will develop tools, techniques and algorithms
for drilling wells of less than three inches in diameter in arctic
conditions. A conceptual design of a miniature mobile system for drilling
gas wells in remote locations will be developed. With a "footprint"
one-third that of a conventional drill rig, the proposed slimhole
system could be capable of drilling wells as less than 20 percent
of today's costs. The technology could be especially useful for producing
natural gas for remote Native Alaskan villages.
Total Project Cost: $1,065,000 million (DOE share: $440,000;
participant's share: $625,000)
Duration: 2 years
Project contact: John Rense, (907) 265-4145
Improving gas storage techniques is the focus of the project selected
from RESPEC, Rapid City, SD:
- A Model for Gas Storage in Salt Caverns.
Spotted throughout the country are sites where the gas industry stores
natural gas for use in meeting peak demands. In areas where underground
salt formations, called "domes," are prevalent, such as along
the Gulf of Mexico coastline, caverns are dissolved in the salt to hold
natural gas supplies.
In this project, RESPEC will field test a technology developed in
the Energy Department's gas storage research program that could improve
the amount of gas that can be extracted efficiently and economically
from salt cavern storage, the so-called "working gas." The
company has adapted a mathematical model, called the Multimechaism
Deformation Coupled Model, originally developed for the disposal of
nuclear waste in salt formations. The model has been modified to make
it useful in determining the minimum gas pressure for gas storage
caverns in salt domes.
RESPEC will test the model in two Bay Gas Storage Company caverns
in the McIntosh salt dome near Mobile, AL, one of which is existing,
the other to be constructed. If successful, gas companies could use
the model to predict more accurately the behavior of the salt when
natural gas is cycled into and out of the storage cavern. This, in
turn, could help provide a scientific basis for determining minimum
working gas pressures.
Even modest improvements in storage capacity efficiencies could increase
the amount of working gas capacity in existing salt caverns. RESPEC
estimates that its technique could lead to as much as 13 billion cubic
feet of additional working gas capacity being available to meet peak
consumer demands from salt dome sites (currently approximately 125
billion cubic feet of gas storage capacity in salt domes exists at
29 U.S. sites).
Total Project cost: $374,000 (DOE share: $277,000; participant's
Duration: 22 months
Project contact: Gary Callahan, (605) 394-6400