Research yields results

July 18, 2005
Despite funding uncertainty, energy research by the US Department of Energy yields steady results.

Despite funding uncertainty, energy research by the US Department of Energy yields steady results.

DOE, which provides more than 40% of total federal funding for US basic science research, is the principal federal funding agency for energy research.

DOE sponsors and oversees research at universities in 49 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, with thousands of investigators and advanced students employed in diverse scientific research.

Some of the projects DOE scientists currently have under development that should benefit the industry are effective carbon sequestration, advanced carbon dioxide injection programs to enhance recovery of oil in mature fields, an ultralow-cost method of monitoring marginal oil wells, and a program to develop lower-cost, more-efficient methods of drilling deeper and “smarter” natural gas wells.

Funding came under question this year when the Bush administration submitted a fiscal 2006 budget envisioning the phaseout of fossil energy research. Appropriations bills in Congress partly restore the spending (OGJ, June 6, 2005, Newsletter).

‘Deep Trek’ drilling

Although more than 70% of gas produced in the US now comes from 5,000 ft or deeper wells, only 7% comes from formations below 15,000 ft. That is understandable, given that rock at those depths typically is hot, hard, abrasive, and under extreme pressure, making drilling slow and very costly. It also is “difficult to control the precise trajectory of a well when the drillbit is nearly 3 miles below the surface,” says DOE.

The National Petroleum Council in September 2003 issued a report to the secretary of energy identifying technologies needed to access an estimated 125 tcf of gas thought to be trapped at those depths. These included equipment and sensors that can withstand high temperatures and pressures, expandable pipe to reduce weight, lightweight composite pipe materials, and technologies to allow small-diameter wells.

DOE a year earlier had initiated such a program to develop smart drilling tools that could accomplish these goals economically enough to make the extraction of deep-horizon gas feasible.

With $8 million in DOE funding and $10 million contributed by industry partners, DOE awarded five research projects to companies working with its National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) to produce smart communication systems, instrumentation, special drillbits and fluids, and novel pipe systems capable of withstanding temperatures of more than 400° F.

The systems can report key measurements such as temperature, pressure, fluid content, and geology as a well is being drilled, DOE says. Sophisticated electronic systems can identify trouble spots in real time so operators can make adjustments without stopping work.

Other advances

In early July, DOE was touting the development of IntelliPipe, which Novatek Engineering, Provo, Utah, developed with DOE funding. It is drill pipe with built-in telemetry that can operate thousands of feet below the surface via a coupler embedded in connections between pipe sections. The coupler permits data to be sent across small gaps between each pipe section through a cable attached to an inner pipe wall, DOE reported.

Novatek and coinvestor Grant Prideco Inc., Houston, are marketing the technology.

IntelliPipe “turns an oil and gas drill pipe into a high-speed data transmission tool capable of sending data from the bottom of a well up to 200,000 times faster than mud pulse and other downhole telemetry technology in common use today,” DOE said.

Tested successfully at research field sites in Oklahoma and Wyoming, it currently is being tested in a full-scale commercial well.

DOE last year announced the development of new composite drill pipe made from carbon fiber resins that it said are “lighter, stronger, and more flexible than steel.” The composite pipe was developed under a 4-year, $3.6 million cooperative agreement at NETL and is being used by Integrated Directional Resources of Lafayette, La. Although more costly than traditional steel pipe, DOE said, “It can cycle or rotate through a short radius bend for extended periods of time without suffering fatigue damage.” It also can be reused in multiple wells.

And earlier this year DOE reported development of the Marginal Expense Oilwell Wireless Surveillance (MEOWS) monitoring system, which allows daily, remote monitoring of stripper wells in real time at reduced cost. For about $200/well, the system helps the operator improve the efficiency of rod pumps controlled by timers.

NETL Project Manager Jim Barnes said he expected a 3-10% jump in oil output, a 10% drop in electricity costs (about $2,000/month), a roughly 10% gain in pump system life, and a decline in well-servicing costs (about $2,000/month).