SPE Technology Updates

Industry and Society news grouped by SPE technical discipline


SPE Drilling & Completion: featured papers

View the entire September 2011 issue of SPE Drilling & Completion

134563-PA – Continuing Application of Torque-Position Assembly Technology for API Connections
James P. Powers, SPE, ExxonMobil Development Company; and Michael S. Chelf, SPE, ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company

135462-PA – A Major Advancement in Expandable Connection Performance, Enabling Reliable Gastight Expandable Connections
Richard DeLange, SPE, Raju Gandikota, and Scott Osburn, SPE, Weatherford International

119468-PA – New Standard for Evaluating Casing Connections for Thermal-Well Applications
Jaroslaw Nowinka, SPE, and Dan Dall’Acqua, SPE, Noetic Engineering 2008

139829-PA – Casing Design With Flowing Fluids
Robert F. Mitchell, Halliburton

139824-PA – Lateral Buckling–The Key to Lockup
Robert F. Mitchell, Halliburton, and Tore Weltzin, Statoil




Gas Production Technology

It was not long ago that finding a natural-gas field beneath your property was viewed universally as a stroke of good luck. Now, local natural-gas development is feared by many who assume the “new technology” of “fracing” is environmentally harmful. In reality, the first hydraulic-fracturing treatment was tested in a North Carolina granite quarry way back in 1903. Hydraulic fracturing has been used successfully in more than a million wells since then, and, currently, hundreds of fracturing stages are pumped every day. Very impressive for a “new” technology!

Partly because of these very successful and trouble-free wells, natural gas has enjoyed an enviable reputation as a clean, cheap, and abundant energy source. However, we need only to look to the nuclear industry to see that a hard-won reputation can be ruined by false rumors, isolated incidents, or the worst examples of safety, environmental, and reporting practices. If we always strive to be good neighbors in the communities in which we work, we can remain proud natural-gas producers for years to come.

Because stimulated wells make up an increasing portion of supply with each passing year, we have become dependent upon wells that require additional attention and often exhibit high decline rates. To buffer the supply/demand swings, gas-storage wells are used for both injection of dehydrated pipeline gas and production of newly saturated formation gas. Water-vapor equilibrium will reduce the water saturation around injection wellbores but may increase salt precipitation in the same region. A new study from the Middle East describes a means of maximizing sand-free gas-production rates from wells in unconsolidated zones, without a difficult-to-place hydraulic fracture. A third paper describes a means of identifying well candidates that may need a second treatment because of deterioration of the original fracture or the need to access additional reservoir. A downloadable full-length technical paper provides a new decline-curve functional form that can match unconventional wells with long transient-flow periods w hile honoring late-time interference and depletion. These papers provide some legitimately new technology.

Read the paper synopses in the November 2011 issue of JPT.

Scott J. Wilson, SPE, is a Senior Vice President of Ryder Scott Company. He specializes in well-performance prediction and optimization, reserves appraisals, simulation studies, software development, and training. Wilson has worked in all major producing regions in his 25-year career as an engineer and consultant with Arco and Ryder Scott. He is Cochairperson of the SPE Reserves and Economics Technical Interest Group and serves on the JPT Editorial Committee. Wilson holds a BS degree in petroleum engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and an MBA degree from the University of Colorado. He holds two patents and is a registered professional engineer in Alaska, Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming.


Horizontal and Complex Trajectory Wells

Geometrically complex and horizontal wells are constructed to deliver additional production with fewer environmental effects. The continuous success with which we are able to drill, complete, operate, and maintain wells having demanding profiles positioned for stronger reservoir performance is the result of service companies, drilling companies, operators, and technical institutions developing ever-more-advanced and -reliable technology. As new technologies are put to work, new techniques are developed to reduce operational risk, increase payback, and improve efficiency, thereby pushing the boundaries of what previously was considered technically improbable to achieve or uneconomical. As a result, higher-value wells are constructed. Development of these new technologies and techniques continues, but none of this is possible without technically competent experienced people.

Well-construction activity has ramped up over the past 2 years. This activity ramp is occurring simultaneously in established areas and “frontier” locations that are remote from upstream infrastructure or are lacking local expertise. As a result, it is challenging to ensure that complex wells gain the focus of the most-experienced technical personnel to deliver acceptable performance consistently. While remote operating centers alleviate some of this challenge, the need for technical training and competency development probably has never been greater than it is today. However, the opportunities to achieve this have never been greater.

Every well we construct and operate presents on-the-job-training and competency-development opportunities. We should make greater efforts in identifying these opportunities and in committing to exploiting them. This should be more widely recognized at the planning phase by documenting training opportunities as key well objectives. Achieving these objectives would enhance the value delivered from each well.

It is only by focusing on development of people, existing and new to our industry, that the boundaries of horizontal and complex wells will continue to expand, adding production with fewer environmental effects. This must persist irrespective of the business cycle because while there are efficient methods of attaining technical proficiency by commitment to well-structured programs, there are no shortcuts.

Read the paper synopses in the November 2011 issue of JPT.

Jon Ruszka, SPE, is Field Career Development Manager, Baker Hughes Africa Region. He has more than 25 years’ industry experience in various technical, operational, and marketing positions, primarily focused on the application and advancement of directional-drilling technology and techniques. Ruszka earned a BSc Honours degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Bristol and a post-graduate diploma with distinction in offshore engineering from Robert Gordon Institute of Technology, Aberdeen. He has authored and presented several SPE papers and serves on the IADC/SPE Drilling Conference & Exhibition Organizing Committee and the JPT Editorial Committee.


Drilling and Completion Fluids

When you take a look at the oil industry these days, what is the one thing you hear and read about the most? “Shale plays.” Operators are developing resources, purchasing acreage, and purchasing companies that have acreage in the USA and in countries around the world, now more than ever before.

For long-term economic stability of these projects, they need to be drilled as inexpensively and as fast as possible–basically, they need to be “factory-type wells.” The main fluid-related challenges associated with shale drilling are rate of penetration (ROP), shale stability, torque and drag, and waste management. Many of these wells are being drilled with nonaqueous fluids (NAFs) to meet these challenges, with the only real issue being waste management. However, there are technologies being used that reduce the amount of waste generated with NAFs, such as premium solids-control systems and thermal-desorption methods.

In an effort to eliminate NAF waste-management issues, drilling-fluids companies have developed fit-for-purpose water-based drilling fluids for each of the major shale plays. The shale regions around the world vary in depth, mineralogy, temperature, and other characteristics, and a single fluid formulation does not fit all circumstances. Each fluid is customized to the unique characteristics of a particular shale region. Fluids companies have specific products and chemistries that are designed for a specific type of shale and drilling operation.

As technological advances enable exploitation of shale resources around the world, the challenge will be to find the most-cost-effective solution. As always, the lowest overall well cost may not result from the lowest-cost-per-barrel drilling fluid. One has to take into account ROP, torque and drag, wellbore stability, and waste management when determining the most-cost-effective solution.

There were many good papers written this year, and I have tried to choose a variety of universal topics. Please take time to read them and the papers listed as additional reading.

Read the paper synopses in the November 2011 issue of JPT.

Brent Estes, SPE, is a Drilling Fluids Specialist for Chevron Energy Technology Company supporting worldwide drilling operations. Previously, he was with ExxonMobil and Baroid Drilling Fluids. Estes earned a BS degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University. He has a broad background in all aspects of drilling and completion fluids, including fluids research and development and working as a drilling engineer. Estes has authored several SPE papers and serves on the JPT Editorial Committee.


Quantifying the Invisible: Getting a Handle on Methane’s Climate Impact

Robin Beckwith, Staff Writer JPT/JPT Online

Earlier this year, a Cornell University professor made quite a splash publishing a paper asserting that emissions from shale gas rivaled those from coal. A July 2011 study issued by the Post Carbon Institute underscored this conclusion. Not so, say five separate recent reports–from Carnegie Mellon University, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), the US National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), Argonne Laboratory, and Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors (coauthored by individuals from Worldwatch Institute and ICF International). At heart are issues related to measuring and quantifying emissions of an odorless, colorless gas–methane (CH4)–considered the second-most prevalent long-lived greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (CO2).

Read the full article in the November 2011 JPT.


From Bacteria to Barrels: Microbiology Having an Impact on Oil Fields

The science behind the use of microbes to enhance oil recovery has advanced significantly, but it suffers from old associations.

After decades of trial and error, those working on microbial enhanced oil recovery have identified the “oil-eating” bacteria that laboratory tests suggest can change the properties in an oil reservoir, and know better how to put them to work. The increasing knowledge of the role microbial life plays in oil and gas reservoirs has also led to new approaches for controlling corrosion, managing bacterially-produced hydrogen sulfide, and creating natural gas from coal.

(In this story, “eat” is used to describe the metabolic processes of bacteria. For instance, oil eating is more precisely hydrocarbon oxidizing.)

But the greatest potential payoff and the most debate come from the idea of microbes for enhanced oil recovery (MEOR). “There is a much greater understanding of what microbiology is doing in a reservoir” and how that can be used to produce more oil, said Stuart Page, chief executive officer of Glori Energy, a company that has staked its future of convincing the industry that microbes can be used to recover more oil.

Read the full article from the November 2011 JPT.

Challenges in Reusing Produced Water

[Download the Challenges in Reusing Produced Water white paper.]

Produced water is an inextricable part of the hydrocarbon recovery processes, yet it is by far the largest volume waste stream associated with hydrocarbon recovery. Water production estimates are in the order of 250 million B/D in 2007, for a water-to-oil ratio around 3:1, and are expected to increase to more than 300 million B/D between 2010 and 2012. Increasingly, stringent environmental regulations require extensive treatment of produced water from oil and gas productions before discharge; hence the treatment and disposal of such volumes costs the industry annually more than USD 40 billion. Consequently, for oil and gas production wells located in water-scarce regions, limited freshwater resources in conjunction with the high treatment cost for produced water discharge makes beneficial reuse of produced water an attractive opportunity.

Technology Focus: Formation Evaluation

(JPT, August 2011)

Reportedly, companies are struggling to find petrophysicists for their subsurface teams, especially companies exploiting unconventional resources that require a major petrophysical effort to unlock their reserves potential. How has this state of affairs come about? Read more in the August 2011 issue of JPT, including three paper summaries in formation evaluation.

In-Situ Molecular Manipulation

[Download the In-Situ Molecular Manipulation white paper.]

Energy sources are vital to sustain and grow the world economy. As of today, the world mainly relies on fossil fuel as the source of energy for transportation, power generation, chemicals manufacturing, and other industrial applications. The conventional sources of hydrocarbon are steadily declining; however, the oil and gas industry has been successful in finding unconventional hydrocarbons, such as heavy oil and shale gas. There are distinct challenges in producing and processing the hydrocarbons from unconventional sources into usable end products. Reducing the footprint during the production of oil, refined products, and gas will benefit the industry by reducing the overall cost and improving the health, safety, and environmental impact.

Another source of energy is renewable sources, such as sun, wind, geothermal, biomass, plant seeds, and algae. Producing usable energy from these sources and making it available to the end user pose unique challenges and opportunities. Research to understand the molecular building blocks of organisms living in diverse sources could help optimize the production of usable energy from both fossil and renewable sources. The search for microorganisms should include diverse sources, ranging from hydrocarbon reservoir to the guts of insects such as termites. Research into the molecular structure of these organisms could pave the way for improving exploration, production, and processing of fossil fuels and also help to produce usable energy from renewable sources efficiently and cost-effectively.

Increasing Hydrocarbon Recovery Factors

[Download the Increasing Hydrocarbon Recovery Factors white paper.]

Conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons are likely to remain the main component of the energy mix needed to meet the growing global energy demand in the next 50 years. The worldwide production of crude oil could drop by nearly 40 million B/D by 2020 from existing projects, and an additional 25 million B/D of oil will need to be produced for the supply to keep pace with consumption. Scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations are needed, not only to secure supply of affordable hydrocarbons, but also to minimize the environmental impact of hydrocarbon recovery and utilization.

The lifecycle of an oilfield is typically characterized by three main stages: production buildup, plateau production, and declining production. Sustaining the required production levels over the duration of the lifecycle requires a good understanding of and the ability to control the recovery mechanisms involved. For primary recovery (i.e., natural depletion of reservoir pressure), the lifecycle is generally short and the recovery factor does not exceed 20% in most cases. For secondary recovery, relying on either natural or artificial water or gas injection, the incremental recovery ranges from 15 to 25%. Globally, the overall recovery factors for combined primary and secondary recovery range between 35 and 45%. Increasing the recovery factor of maturing waterflooding projects by 10 to 30% could contribute significantly to the much-needed energy supply. To accomplish this, operators and service companies need to find ways to maximize recovery while minimizing operational costs and environmental imprint.

This paper provides an overview of the options that oil and gas operators and service companies are considering as they look for solutions to the above needs and plan possible technology development scenarios. Emerging developments in such sciences as physics, chemistry, biotechnology, computing sciences, and nanotechnologies that are deemed capable of changing the hydrocarbon recovery game are highlighted.