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Upstream Research

O and G iconThe increasing demand for reliable, affordable, and secure domestic supplies of energy amplify the need for continued research into ways to economically access our Nation’s vast unconventional natural gas and oil resources. While there have been significant advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology, recovery rates for unconventional reservoirs are low, and a large volume of hydrocarbon resources remain in place. Additional R&D will help improve recovery efficiency, reduce costs for resource development, reduce environmental impacts of exploration and production, and ensure sustainable resource development.

As a result, these drivers provide a clear focus for the role of technology in enhancing the Nation’s ability to benefit from its vast natural gas and oil resources:

  • Improving understanding of unconventional resources by developing novel technologies and processes focused on reservoir characterization, stimulation, and production operations.
  • Increasing resource recovery while focusing on technologies that ensure environmentally prudent resource development.
  • Reducing the environmental impact of exploration and production operations by ensuring wellbore integrity, developing advanced treatment processes for water produced from fracturing operations, investigating non-aqueous “working fluids” for formation stimulation, and utilizing advanced tools to ensure optimal fracture stage design.
  • Catalyzing the development of innovative technologies to improve our understanding of exploration and production in unconventional reservoirs using field laboratories as platforms for technology implementation and validation, supported by partnerships with industrial, academic, and other governmental stakeholders.

Computed Tomography Core

While the definition of the term “unconventional” has evolved over time, this research Program is focused on the production of hydrocarbons from shale and other tight formations. NETL’s Upstream Research Program focuses on a balanced portfolio of fundamental science, enabling technologies, and field-based validation mechanisms to accelerate the development of technology solutions and new sources of data to industry, academia, and the general public. The current portfolio of active projects is balanced among research thrusts including:

  • Advancing fracture diagnostic technologies to more accurately characterize the dimensions of hydraulic fractures.
  • Improving well design to more effectively produce hydrocarbons from the reservoir and recover more natural gas or oil from each fractured interval from existing resource plays.
  • Investigating ways to reduce the volumes for fresh water required for hydraulic fracturing.
  • Supporting modeling studies to improve industry’s basic understanding of fluid-water-rock behavior in tight rocks.
  • Developing new technologies and processes for the efficient treatment and re-use of waters produced during stimulation and production.
  • Accelerating the development of new sources of data from emerging and frontier resource plays to a variety of stakeholders.


View Project Information

Field Labs

Field Labs

Fundamental Research

Fundamental Research

NETL implements this effort as part of DOE’s Oil & Gas Program.