Part 2: Department of Energy releases 2012 Unconventional Resources R&D Plan

This week I’ll dig a little deeper into the recent Department of Energy report to Congress: 2012 Annual Plan Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources Research Program.

The Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005 set in motion a 10-year program that allocates $50 million annually toward research and development of safe domestic resource extraction. The EPAct sunsets in September 2014, so this year’s plan outlines the final years of the program. The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) oversees implementation of EPAct. Research activities are coordinated by the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), which is made up of research institutions, universities, and industry groups. NETL and RPSEA have administered and implemented all of the research activities to date.

Each annual plan evolves with the latest technology and incorporates the work of previous years. Since its inception, the program has focused on safety and environmental impact. The RPSEA’s stated goal of the 2012 Annual Plan is defined by the EPAct: to maximize “the value of natural gas and other petroleum resources of the United States, by increasing the supply of such resources, through reducing the cost and increasing the efficiency of exploration for and production of such resources, while improving safety and minimizing environmental impacts.”

Now that the program is coming to a close, the RPSEA’s current objectives are “the continued aggressive engagement of the private sector and research communities to enhance the value of the public/private partnership; a focus on building, maintaining, and managing the optimal portfolio contemplated by the original DAPs (Draft Annual Plans); and project execution and technology transfer.” Emphasis in the final years of the program will be on integrating the results into commercial applications.

Under three broad categories, the program outlines research topics to concentrate on the objectives listed below. Once the 2012 Annual Plan is approved, requests for proposals (RFP) will be accepted as solicitations for specific topics of research by RPSEA. RFPs for the 2011 plan closed only a few months ago, so it will be some time before we know which projects will receive funding during the final years of the program. Once this information is available, it will be informative to examine the research projects that have been awarded funding and determine how their findings have been implemented in the industry.

Natural gas from shale formations

  • Minimize surface disruption associated with shale gas development. This includes not only well site construction but also air emissions, noise, visual impact, and impact on surface water resources.
  • Ensure isolation of producing formations and wellbores from shallower formations, particularly near-surface aquifers.
  • Maximize the efficiency of hydraulic fracturing operations to ensure that only the minimum amount of fluid necessary to stimulate the reservoir zone is used, and the need for refracture treatments is minimized.
  • Anticipate and mitigate induced seismicity associated with unconventional gas development, including hydraulic fracturing and injection well disposal.
  • Develop solutions for managing fluid use associated with shale gas development. This includes understanding and minimizing the impact on regional water resources, the development of “green” drilling and fracturing fluids that minimize contamination risks, the development of improved treatment and re-use options, and the minimization of fluid waste streams.
  • Demonstrate and integrate promising technologies to facilitate early adoption and commercialization.

Ultra-deepwater program

  • Improved well control technologies and techniques
  • Improved well design and construction
  • Improved subsea ultra-deepwater measurement and monitoring instrumentation
  • Improvements in flow assurance predictions
  • Increased understanding of complex fluid phase behaviors that occur under conditions of extreme pressure and temperature
  • Assessment and quantification of environmental impact risks associated with deepwater oil and gas exploration, drilling, and production activity based on newly developed technologies
  • Research on sensors, instrumentation, command electronics, and advanced data interpretation technologies
  • Improved reservoir characterization and recovery methods
  • Continued research and technology development and demonstration of certain previously identified concepts and needs
  • Drilling, completion, and intervention breakthroughs
  • Appraisal and development geoscience and reservoir engineering
  • Significantly extend subsea tieback distances/surface host elimination
  • Dry trees/direct well intervention and risers in 10,000-foot water depth
  • Continuous improvement/optimization of field development
  • Associated safety and environmental concerns

Small producer program

  • Reduce cost and improve efficacy of well interventions and drilling
  • Extend economic life of mature fields through environmentally safe efficiency
  • Mitigate environmental impacts in mature fields
  • Reduce operating costs through more effective and efficient compliance with operating regulations

That’s all for this week’s installment. Please leave your comments and questions below.

Carissa Ries

water well expert

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