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South Dakota Project Testing State's Shale for Storage, Production

Drilling has begun near a small town in central South Dakota to develop shale core samples as part of a research project between the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and RESPEC, a Rapid City, SD-based engineering consulting company.

This is the first of two drillings scheduled for this summer under a state-funded $464,000 project. The emphasis is on the storage potential more than production, officials said.

One of the possible outcomes is a shale properties database that may spur further research and development of shale oil and natural gas possibilities, and other alternatives in South Dakota. The geographic area being explored is equidistant to the Bakken, Niobrara and Mowry formations, university officials noted.

Researchers plan to use advanced laboratory testing to determine if South Dakota is a realistic candidate for enhanced energy production, such as the booming Bakken Shale in the Williston Basin in North Dakota, or as a source for carbon dioxide sequestration, underground hydrocarbon storage, and waste disposal sites.

Part of the shale production puzzle involves finding ways to improve enhanced oil recovery, or EOR, said the School of Mines' Lance Roberts, who heads mining engineering and management. South Dakota's current oil and gas production amounts to about 8 million bbl annually and is focused in the far northwest corner of the state, a South Dakota Department of Mineral Resources official told the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference earlier this year.

Drilling near Fort Pierre, SD,  has been completed, yielding more than 3,000 pounds of shale samples that are to be analyzed in various laboratories throughout the South Dakota science and engineering research university in Rapid City, Roberts said.

Roberts and engineering researcher William Roggenthen are directing the drilling work by a private company. Other engineering faculty and students have worked on site to prepare samples for the laboratory analysis. Core samples were taken at five-foot intervals and to depths of 520 feet.

Plans now call for drilling a second hole in another area on state lands by early September, Roberts told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday. The initial drilling was in the same general area near Fort Pierre, but on private land. Testing would take 30 days in most cases, and overall results are expected by the end of this year, he said.

"The project is one year in duration, and the grant money runs out in July next year," Roberts said. "Lab results should be completed by the end of this year, and then we will tie in that data to some modeling that we already developed in the preliminary phase of this project."

The university's Shale Research Initiative was undertaken with RESPEC in 2012. Funding initially was $150,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy and Sandia National Laboratory to examine the shale's potential for housing an underground nuclear waste repository.

"Developing a database of shale properties could have potential economic impacts and result in a portfolio of knowledge gaps that warrant further study by industry and government collaborators," said a university spokesperson.

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