TULSA, OK - The special challenges confronting oil
producers working in the Arctic will be the focus of two new research
projects selected by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology
Both projects - one by the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology,
the other by the University of Houston - will evaluate ways to boost the
productivity of oil exploration and production operations on Alaska's
North Slope in an environmentally sound manner. The projects are intended
to develop and test advanced technologies that can locate and produce
oil in the extreme climatic conditions, remote locations, and heightened
environmental sensitivity that exist in the Arctic.
The research projects were selected from proposals received in response
to the second round of an Energy Resources Program solicitation released
by the Energy Department in December 2000. These projects combined with
the earlier first round selections will provide innovative techniques
and tools that support the DOE's petroleum research program while serving
as a guide for industry efforts.
The projects will be managed by the Department's National Petroleum Technology
Office in Tulsa, OK. The office oversees petroleum-related research for
the National Energy Technology Laboratory as part of the Energy Department's
Fossil Energy research and development program.
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, NM
Researchers at New Mexico Tech's Petroleum Recovery Research
Center will receive $750,000 in federal funding for a 3-year study on
how synthetic-oil-based muds change the properties of rock cores extracted
from Arctic reservoirs. The University will contribute another $360,400.
On the North Slope, drillers must use specially formulated synthetic-oil-based
muds, rather than water-based muds, both for environmental reasons and
to function properly in the Arctic climate. The synthetic muds, however,
can change the properties of the core samples which geologists extract
and analyze to determine the best ways to produce oil from the reservoir.
The New Mexico researchers will explore ways to restore the original properties
of the reservoir rock cores or perhaps to develop synthetic muds that
do not have detrimental effects on the cores.
University of Houston, Houston, TX
Researchers will receive nearly $600,000 in federal funding for
a 3-year effort to develop a reservoir simulator that would show how injecting
different mixtures of hydrocarbon and other gases can boost oil recovery
and possibly lead to the sequestration of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse
gas. The university will add $150,000 to the research project.
University researchers are especially interested in a process called
"water-alternate-gas" injection that operators could use in
the future to produce heavy oil from the North Slope's shallow sand reservoirs.
With today's state-of-the-art simulators, researchers can model how a
single gas - methane, for example - behaves as it moves through a reservoir.
When the gas composition varies, however, the modeling and simulation
process becomes significantly more complex.
The University of Houston
model could make it possible for future North Slope operators to predict
how injecting methane, carbon dioxide, flue gases, or combinations of
these gases, along with water, can enhance the production of North Slope
heavy oil. In the case of carbon dioxide, the model could also reveal
important information on how the greenhouse gas might be captured and
remain in the reservoir, which could lead to a viable way of disposing
of several megatons of the greenhouse gas at the North Slope.