Issued on: June 1, 1999
Richardson, Bingaman Announce New Natural Gas Recovery Project
New Mexico Company to Develop, Test "Real Time" Method for Tracking Gas Recovery Processes
Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) today announced a new project that could give the nation's natural gas producers a less expensive, "real time" way to monitor and fine tune methods for increasing the flow of gas from dense underground formations.
Richardson and Bingaman said that the Department of Energy (DOE) will provide nearly $800,000 to RealTimeZone, Inc., a Roswell, N.M. small business, to develop a new way to transmit data from deep within a reservoir. The system is intended to give operators on the surface virtually instantaneous readings on the progress of fracturing operations designed to free trapped natural gas.
The company, which will be joined by New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Sandia National Laboratories and several petroleum companies, will add nearly $380,000, bringing the total value of the 2-and-a-half year project to $1.2 million.
"We are adding this project to our technology research program because it offers an innovation that can lower the costs of producing natural gas in the United States," Secretary Richardson said. "With natural gas use expected to increase by more than a third in the next 10 years, it is important that we look to technological advancements like this one to help assure a sufficient and affordable gas supply."
"Lowering the cost of gas production is vital to the future of our domestic gas industry. It's also important to the economy of New Mexico and to consumers who will increasingly depend on natural gas as a source of energy," Senator Bingaman said. "This is exactly the kind of partnership we should be encouraging between our national labs, small businesses and research institutions to address a broad range of problems facing the country."
Bingaman, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee, has long fought to maintain support for research in promising technologies that could lower the cost of gas and oil production for marginal producers. Last year he thwarted a proposal to dramatically cut back funding for DOE-sponsored oil and gas research.
Producers often fracture gas-bearing rocks by injecting high-pressure fluids into the underground reservoir. Once created, the ribbon-thin fractures are usually propped open with tiny sand or other particles to keep pathways available for gas to flow to producing wells.
Fracturing, however, can be difficult to control. Fractures can fail to crack in the correct direction and never reach the target gas. In some cases, they can break through a gas-bearing formation, diverting gas flow into other zones and away from production wells.
The problem with current technology is that operators must often wait until the fracturing has been completed before learning the results.
If a fracture has veered off in the wrong direction, the operator has, in most cases, spent a lot of time and money for less-than-expected results. In worst cases, the errant fracture may have permanently damaged the gas-producing potential of the formation by creating a way for natural gas to escape and disperse into adjacent rock structures.
RealTimeZone's innovation would give operators a way to make changes in the fracturing process as problems occur, or to stop the job before a fracture penetrates outside the formation.
The concept envisions injecting a low-level, gamma-ray emitting material into the formation along with the fracturing fluid. Gamma ray emitters are commonly used today in the gas industry. The difference in RealTimeZone's concept is that a battery-operated gamma ray detector would be positioned at the base of the injection well to monitor the movement of the tracer as it moves with the fracture into the formation.
With telemetry being sent continuously from the downhole detector and relayed to the surface from an electronic receiver suspended higher up in the wellbore, operators would know within seconds whether the fracture was propagating as intended.
The project is being carried out as part of the Energy Department's natural gas research program, but it may also be applicable to oil recovery where water and other fluids are often injected to force more oil to producing wells.
-End of TechLine-For more information, contact:
Robert C. Porter, DOE Office of Fossil Energy, (202) 586-6503
Otis Mills, DOE Federal Energy Technology Center, (412) 892-5890
Gary L. Covatch, DOE Federal Energy Technology Center, (304) 285-4589