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NETL Partnering in Investigation of Unconventional Reservoirs in Central Appalachia

On-site drilling is set to continue on an NETL-supported field laboratory which will characterize and assess the potential economic value of unconventional shale resources in Central Appalachia.

Virginia Tech (VT) along with industry partner, EnerVest Operating LLC, will drill out the surface casing shoe of a 15,000-foot characterization well to investigate and characterize the resource potential for multi-play production of emerging unconventional reservoirs in Central Appalachia. The emerging stacked unconventional plays (ESUP) project will evaluate the resource potential of multiple stratigraphic units possibly leading to further natural gas development and job growth in a region of the country hard-hit by the downturn in coal production.

The Central Appalachian region hosts an abundance of hydrocarbon resources such as coalbed methane, shale, and other unconventional resources. Many of these resources are vertically stacked such that a single well or group of wells in proximity could produce simultaneously from multiple reservoirs. Many of these shallower reservoirs produce at relatively low rates while the deeper formations are largely untested thus can be classified as emerging plays.

This NETL-supported project is designed to improve characterization of these multiple emerging unconventional resources that exist throughout Central Appalachia (e.g., southern West Virginia, southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky) through the drilling, coring, logging, and analyses including machine learning of a vertical stratigraphic test well planned to 15,000 feet true vertical depth.

“NETL has a great history of facilitating cooperation among academic institutions and industry throughout the Nation, with the upcoming ESUP serving as an example of what can happen when these institutions work together,” NETL’s Robert Vagnetti said. “In addition to the potential economic benefits, this project also furthers NETL’s goal of discovering how to leverage the most of our natural resources while leaving a light environmental footprint.”

The field site location in Wise County, VA is home to pristine temperate forests and freshwater streams hence the emphasis on environmental protection in the context of natural resource development.

While more recoverable hydrocarbons are available than ever before due to advances in technology, there are still challenges to overcome. Addressing these uncertainties and technical issues should support the level of investment required to develop Central Appalachia’s deeper natural gas bearing reservoirs.

The ESUP Field Laboratory Team will also explore, through core analysis and modeling, novel non-aqueous well completion strategies in the Lower Huron, which is an active play in this region that is believed to have potential for enhanced production through innovative stimulation designs. An assessment will be made of the multi-play resource potential, and a recommended strategy will be advanced for prudent development that considers regional environmental and socioeconomic impacts.

Ultimately, the goal of VT’s field laboratory is to combine state of the art technology, laboratory and engineering analysis including modeling, as well as robust outreach to comprehensively assess the potential of deep, high pressure shales that underlie the region.

The project commenced in April 2018 and with more than $8 million in U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) support. Since then, VT has sited, designed, permitted, and set surface casing on the 15,000-foot characterization well. A triple stand rig will be moved on location during April 2020 to continue drilling and coring to the planned depth of 15,200 ft.

NETL is a DOE national laboratory that produces technological solutions for America’s energy challenges. From developing creative innovations and efficient energy systems that make coal more competitive, to advancing technologies that enhance oil and natural gas extraction and transmission processes, NETL research is providing breakthroughs and discoveries that support domestic energy initiatives, stimulate a growing economy, and improve the security of all Americans. Highly skilled men and women at NETL’s sites in Albany, Oregon; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania conduct a broad range of research activities that support DOE’s mission to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States.