Workers collaborate at a wellsite. Photo by Shutterstock/QiuJu Son
The nonprofit research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) has unveiled a comprehensive 10-year plan for advancing research into sustainable oil and gas technology that aims to help cement the status of the U.S. as a leading global producer well into the future.
The wish list of research needs addresses a diverse roster of topics that ranges widely from studies on streamlining the development of offshore reservoirs to improving well recovery in shale plays and advancing environmentally sensitive practices.
“No one knows what the energy industry will look like in the next 10 years, but we do know in order to maintain our leadership position, the United States must compete on a global basis, (and) take full advantage of rapidly evolving technology and address the variety of challenges we will face,” RPSEA President Tom Williams said in a press release.
The Research & Development Plan (R&D Plan) is being released at a critical point in the history of the U.S. oil industry.
Fueled by the shale revolution and development of complex deepwater reservoirs, U.S. oil production surged to a 37-year high of 10 million barrels per day in November and output is expected to continue climbing to a fresh all-time record this year, according to the federal Environmental Information Administration.
With output pushing higher and an oil-friendly administration in the White House, the need to focus on sustainable, environmentally conscious development practices is more apparent than ever.
The R&D Plan draws heavily on input from industry stakeholders and RPSEA’s network of subject matter experts, including universities, national laboratories, as well as large and small energy producers and consumers. It also builds on the foundation of RPSEA’s successful program in the past decade working with the industry, academia, and the Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL).
Onshore Research Needs
Included in the research needs outlined in the R&D Plan are calls for studies into the most effective strategies and technologies for developing unconventional reservoirs, such as the Marcellus Shale in Appalachia, the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas.
The report notes that the average U.S. shale well currently recovers less than 10% for oil production and 15% for gas production, making the enhancement of reservoir recovery an issue of great interest for all stakeholders. It suggests research into better reservoir characterization to improve the well design and wellbore placement to boost recovery.
As shale development increases, the R&D Plan also recommends examining of issues surrounding flowlines, pipelines, and stray gas especially in areas where population growth has occurred on top of old and sometimes abandoned flowlines that were not mapped or identified.
This need was highlighted last year by an incident in Firestone, Colorado. A home in relatively new Front Range neighborhood was destroyed in an explosion linked to an old flowline that was thought to be out of service. The accident led to two deaths and prompted state regulators to call for the inspection of wells and flowlines across the state.
“The domestic unconventional gas resource has dramatically altered the energy picture in the U.S.,” the report said. “As attention turns toward shale gas resources around the world, the technologies developed through this program and applied to the environmentally responsible development of domestic resources will keep U.S. companies and universities in the forefront of global unconventional resource development.”
The R&D Plan also included a call for documenting the impact of shale gas production on regional air and water quality, with proposed projects on environmental baseline monitoring, fugitive methane emissions and fracturing flow back water characterization.
Water management was highlighted as a universal issue, with the cost of recycling being an important factor. Though the report noted that advances are somewhat restricted by regulations, liability, risks, transportation, sourcing, and disposal. It also highlighted a need for research and better technologies to monitor and manage water disposal related to induced seismicity.
Offshore Research Needs
Offshore production research needs were also a subject of significance in the R&D plan. In recent years, several big deepwater developments have come online that pushed the technological boundaries of the industry to new limits and helped to propel production from the federal Gulf of Mexico to a record 1.7 million b/d in November, EIA data show.
Deepwater reservoirs are particularly challenging and costly to develop. They require years of advance planning and pose unique operating challenges and risks. The R&D plan recommends further research into a variety of issues associated with this output to find ways to streamline the process of bringing new wells online while minimizing environmental impacts.
“The goal of Offshore Program is to develop environmentally sensitive, cost-effective technologies to identify and develop resources in increasingly challenging conditions and ensure that the understanding of the risks associated with deepwater operations keeps pace with the technologies that industry has developed,” the R&D Plan said.
Becoming a Safety Leader
The research model RPSEA has developed includes actively engaging stakeholders across the entire community of energy producers, researchers, technology providers, regulators and environmental groups.
And while the R&D Program was primarily developed to promote the safe delivery of energy resources to U.S. citizens, any discoveries could also be extended to oil and gas production in other countries across the world.
“While the U.S. is currently a leader in terms of the development of oil and gas (in particular, the onshore unconventional shale resources), other nations are beginning to see these resources as an important component of a plan to move toward a lower-carbon, sustainable energy mix,” Williams said.