MORGANTOWN, WV -
Five new research projects that, if successful, could give drillers new
tools to unlock natural gas supplies 20,000 feet or more beneath the earth's
surface have been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The projects are part of a new Energy Department effort called "Deep
Trek." Carried out by the department's Office of Fossil Energy, the
research program will assist industry in developing high-tech "smart"
drilling systems tough enough to withstand the extreme conditions of deep
reservoirs, yet economical enough to make the gas affordable to produce.
The target date for developing the advanced drilling systems is 2010.
DOE is contributing slightly more than $5 million toward the projects.
Winning organizations will fund roughly $3 million. Projects will run
anywhere from one to three years.
The advantage of a "smart" drilling system is its ability to
report key measurements -- temperature, pressure, moisture, geology --
as a well is drilled. "Smart" systems can identify potential
trouble spots on a "real-time" basis, allowing operators to
make adjustments without interrupting drilling and incurring costly work
With shallow natural gas reserves already being harvested and the easiest-to-produce
gas-bearing deposits nearing depletion, the trend has been to drill deeper.
Thanks to technological advancements of the late 1980s to the mid-1990s,
the National Petroleum Council indicates 72 percent of gas produced in
the continental United States in 1998 came from wells deeper than 5,000
In a 1999 report to the Secretary of Energy, the council notes, "Deep
drilling is increasing....Productions from depths deeper than 10,000 feet
is expected to increase from 35 percent in 2000 to 41 percent by 2010.
It is important to note, however, that industry's ability to achieve production
from deeper horizons will be dependent on adequate deep drilling infrastructure
and the continued evolution of technology."
Only seven percent of the nation's natural gas in 1998 came from deep
formations 15,000 feet and deeper. DOE expects that a full 12 percent
will have to come from these formations by 2010 just to keep up with demand.
According to a study by DOE and the U.S. Geological Survey last year,
significant gas reserves in the United States lie 15,000 feet and deeper
below the earth's surface. Tapping into this resource is daunting and
expensive. As much as 50 percent of drilling costs are spent on the last
10 to 25 percent of deep wells where rock formations are harder and temperatures
The winning projects, briefly profiled below, will be managed by DOE's
National Energy Technology Laboratory.
- APS Technology Inc., Cromwell,
CT, plans to develop a two-component system that monitors and controls
drilling vibrations in "smart" drilling technologies. Drillstring
vibration causes premature failure of equipment that reduces the depth
and speed at which a well is drilled. A multi-axis active damper will
be used to minimize harmful vibrations that will extend the life of
the drill bit and other components and improve the rate of penetration.
A real-time system that monitors 3-axis vibrations and related measurements
will be used to assess the vibration environment and adjust the damper
Total project cost: $2.24 million
DOE share: $1.36 million; Applicant share: $881,050
Project duration: 36 months
- E-Spectrum Technologies,
San Antonio, TX, proposes to develop a communications system that
allows well operators to receive vital measurements while a well is
being drilled, which improves drilling, and consequently, production.
The system would directly control adjustable downhole tools and make
changes in drilling in real time, greatly improving a well's future
production level. E-Spectrum will build and field-test a prototype
of a wireless electromagnetic telemetry system for use in high-temperature
(392 oF) drilling beyond 20,000 feet. The system will be composed
of a surface unit receiver/transmitter, downhole data-acquisition
module, downhole repeater module, and a downhole receiver/transmitter
module. The project is slated to run in three phases.
Total Phase I cost: $858,928
DOE share: $683,879; Applicant share: $175,049
Phase I duration: 11 months
- Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, PA, and Quality Tubing Inc., Houston, TX, will develop
a continuous microwave process to make seamless coiled tubing and
drill pipes efficiently and economically. Improving the performance,
life cycle and rate of penetration of these materials would allow
deeper wells to be drilled. Drill mud, which contains drilling fluids,
causes erosion and leaks that weaken conventionally welded drill pipes,
causing them to fail.
Total project cost: $1.8 million
DOE share: $1.2 million; Applicant share: $670,000
Project duration: 36 months
- Pinnacle Technologies, San
Francisco, CA, will review current and past stimulation techniques
for deep-well completions to develop data that help minimize the uncertainty
and increase the success in drilling deep formations. Information
will be obtained through literature reviews, interviews with operators,
service companies and consultants, evaluations of rock mechanics and
fracture growth in deep formations and assessments of stimulation
techniques in three to five gas wells. A comprehensive report will
be assembled and given to the gas industry through publications and
workshops. The project is slated to run in three phases.
Total Phase I cost: $225,000
DOE share: $180,000; Applicant share: $45,000
Phase I duration: 12 months
Salt Lake City, UT, will develop and test prototypes of novel drill
bits and advances in high-temperature, high-pressure fluids suited
for slow, deep-drilling operations. With its private industry partners,
Terra Tek will characterize technologies, develop and supply new bit
prototypes and drilling fluids, and field test prototypes. Researchers
will benchmark the performance of emerging products by conducting
drilling tests in its laboratory. Joining Terra Tek will be the University
of Tulsa, Hughes Christensen, BP America, Conoco, INTEQ Drilling Fluids,
Marathon Oil Co., ExxonMobil and National Oilwell.
Total project cost: $2.9 million
DOE share: $1.7 million; Applicant share: $1.2 million
Project duration: 36 months