Exploration and Production Technologies
Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas & Other Petroleum Resources Program Consortium Last Reviewed 6/17/2013


The goal is to maximize the value of indigenous U.S. natural gas and other petroleum resources with a focus on near-to-mid-term results. Priority resources to be addressed include ultra-deepwater natural gas and onshore unconventional natural gas (tight gas sands, gas shales, and coalbed methane), which have been identified by the National Petroleum Council (NPC) and others as strategic areas for future natural gas supplies. The program will increase the supply of these resources by implementing a research program to reduce recovery costs and increase the efficiency of exploration and production (E&P) while improving safety and minimizing environmental impacts. An additional goal is to provide small producers with the tools necessary to develop natural gas and other petroleum resources and the knowledge base to effectively increase production and resource recovery.

Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), Sugar Land, TX 77478

In August 2005, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) (the first national energy plan in more than a decade) into law. EPAct Sections 965, 968, and 999 all support oil and gas R&D. The first two of these sections relate to programs that DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) are already implementing. Section 999, however, adds a new dimension to the overall DOE oil and gas R&D effort that involves enhancing opportunities to demonstrate technologies in the field and accelerating their implementation in the marketplace.

The Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources Program launched by Section 999 is a public/private partnership designed to increase America’s domestic oil and gas supply and reduce dependency on imports. A portion of the funding is directed toward cost-shared research partnerships, while another portion will be used by NETL to carry out complementary R&D.

Section 999 sets the funding for this program at a level of $50 million per year over 10 years, provided from federal lease royalties, rents, and bonuses paid by oil and gas companies. The funds are directed specifically towards research targeting four areas: ultra-deepwater resources (35%), unconventional natural gas and other petroleum resources (32.5%), technology challenges of small producers (7.5%), and fundamental research complementary to these areas (25%). The complementary research will be performed by NETL, while all other research will be administered by the consortium overseen by NETL. Each year, RPSEA will develop and submit to DOE a draft Annual Plan, which will be used to develop the DOE Annual Plan for Section 999.

The program will increase the supply of ultra-deepwater oil and natural gas and onshore unconventional natural gas (tight gas sands, gas shales, and coalbed methane) through research to reduce recovery costs and increase the efficiency of E&P while improving safety and minimizing environmental impacts. It will also provide small producers with the tools needed to develop natural gas and other petroleum resources and the knowledge base to effectively increase production and resource recovery.

Each year since 2007, annual plans for the Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources Program have been submitted for review and comments by two federal advisory committees: the Ultra-Deepwater Advisory Committee and Unconventional Resources Technology Advisory Committee. Once approved, the plans are submitted to Congress and published in the Federal Register. Copies of the annual approved plans can be found on the RPSEA website [external site]. Program funds are granted by Congress and released to DOE. RPSEA releases solicitations and awards projects in these areas based on the annual level of funding. A listing of awarded projects can be found on the RPSEA website. The number of annual awarded projects per research area since 2007 is displayed in the following chart: 

Research Area/Plan Year 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Small Producers Program 7 6 6 2 9
Unconventional Resources Program 19 9 11 8 15
Ultra-Deepwater Program 16 14 11 19 6
Totals 42 29 28 29 30

RPSEA submitted their Draft Annual Plan for years 2012–2014 to NETL on November 11, 2011. The 2013 Annual Plan was completed and submitted to the Unconventional Resources Technology Advisory Committee (URTAC) and the Ultra-Deepwater Advisory Committee (UDAC) in September 2012. The URTAC and UDAC completed their reviews and submitted their recommendations to the Secretary of Energy in November 2012.

Some selected RPSEA project successes since 2007 include:

The Dry Trees / Direct Well Intervention and Risers in 10,000-foot Water Depth
The ultra-deepwater dry tree system for drilling and production project has produced a commercial product that will allow the oil and gas industry to safely and effectively drill for and produce oil and/or gas in water depths to 10,000 feet. To date, no system is capable of exceeding 9000 feet of water depth. Other ultra-deepwater drilling and production systems offer a much smaller work area, thus limiting the type of work that can be performed. Moreover, since this is a dry tree system, it allows for direct well intervention in the safest of manners—well re-entry is accomplished on the drilling floor, where personnel can closely monitor systems and easily repair them when necessary.

Novel Concepts for Unconventional Gas Development in Shales, Tight Sands, and Coalbeds
An alternative method of formation stimulation (beyond hydraulic fracturing) was developed that could effectively increase the net gas production from shale while reducing the amount of water required. Over a dozen new concepts were evaluated leading to the identification of a promising new method— a downhole cable saw that cuts a pathway or “slot” into the shale formation along the length of the horizontal well bore. Discussions with service companies to commercialize the technology are underway.

Enhancing Appalachian Coalbed Methane Extraction by Microwave-Induced Fractures
Microwave energy can, in the absence of confining stress, induce fractures in coal. Creation of new fractures and increasing existing cleat apertures via short burst, high-energy microwave energy was evaluated for both hydrostatically stressed and unstressed North American bituminous coal cores. The results of this study indicate that microwaves are likely to have the potential to enhance the communication between a horizontal wellbore and the existing cleat network in coal seams at depth for improved gas recovery or CO2 injection.

Preformed Particle Gels for Mitigating Water Production and Extending the Life of Mature Oil Wells and Further Improving Particle Gel Technology
The goal was to develop methods to optimize preformed particle gel (PPG) treatments to increase oil recovery and reduce water production by improving waterflood sweep efficiency. Field applications of PPG conformance control treatments at various reservoir conditions were summarized. Guidelines for PPG treatment design were provided. The results will aid in the field design of PPG treatments for a large range of well conditions, allowing for improved recovery from existing waterflood operations.

Near Miscible CO2 Application to Improve Oil Recovery for Small Producers
The feasibility of near miscible CO2 flooding for improved oil recovery in an Arbuckle reservoir in Kansas was studied. These reservoirs have produced an estimated 2.2 billion barrels of oil representing 35% of the 6.1 billion barrels of total Kansas oil production. Many of the Arbuckle reservoirs operate at pressures below the minimum miscibility pressure (MMP), the pressure at which CO2 and oil will completely mix. The study found that injection of CO2 at field operating pressures below the MMP can improve oil recovery and leave residual CO2 behind in the reservoir after depletion.

Current Status (June 2013) 
The 2013 Annual Plan is currently being finalized and is scheduled to be transmitted to Congress and published in the Federal Register in June 2013. Solicitations based on the 2012–13 annual plans for the Unconventional Resources and Small Producers programs were released in March 2013 with proposals due in June 2013. Project selections from those solicitations are expected to be announced in September 2013. Solicitations for the Ultra-Deepwater Program are expected to be released in June 2013, with selections expected to be made in November 2013.The technical areas for these solicitations can be found in the 2012–13 annual plans. Solicitations will be open for a minimum of 60 days. Additional information on RPSEA and the solicitations can be found on the RPSEA website [external site].

Project Summaries are being developed for each RPSEA project. These summaries can be found at http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/oil-gas/EPAct2005/Projects/Index.html.

DOE anticipates submitting the 2014 Annual Plan (DRAFT) to both the UDAC and URTAC for review in September 2013, with the 2014 Annual Plan being submitted for approval in December 2013.

Project Start: January 4, 2007
Project End: January 3, 2017

DOE Contribution: $356,250,000
Performer Contribution: $87,615,348 (based on minimum 20% cost share for R&D)

Contact Information
NETL – Gary Covatch (gary.covatch@netl.doe.gov or 304-285-4589)
RPSEA – Robert Siegfried (rsiegfried@rpsea.org or 281-690-5502)

Additional information:

2012 Annual Plan [PDF]

2011 Annual Plan [PDF]

2010 Annual Plan [PDF]

2009 Annual Plan [PDF]

2008 Annual Plan [PDF]

2007 Annual Plan [PDF]

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