A demonstration project by the Department of Energy (DOE) and Houston-based Pinnacle Technologies has led to the creation of an advanced mapping system for hydraulic fracturing that may help optimize production from unconventional gas reserves.

In fracturing, fluids are pumped into reservoirs under pressure to crack open new pathways for increased flow of oil and natural gas to the well. Using a hybrid system built from two available mapping techniques, the Pinnacle tool eliminated steps, reduced costs and increased the opportunities for higher-than-normal reserves recovery, according to the DOE.

The technology was successfully demonstrated in a Colorado coalbed methane well and in a Barnett Shale tight gas test. The long-term test took place in the San Andreas Fault Observatory Well at Depth program in California. Funded by the National Science Foundation in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, the long-term test was essentially a borehole observatory used to monitor the famous California fault zone.

The new Pinnacle technology, which is also applicable to oil production, was said to deliver a more accurate picture of underground conditions and allow improved alignment of induced fractures in ways that optimized flow, the DOE said. The technology offered "better quality data, fewer mapping failures, improved understanding of fracture behavior in a reservoir and improved well spacing and placement."

The system, which Pinnacle intends to market commercially, is expected to allow concurrent operation of tiltmeter observation and "microseismic fracture mapping" with geophone sensors in one array in one well, including the fracture well. Currently, sensors are placed in multiple wells and multiple arrays, the DOE noted.

The venture was managed by the DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory. Pinnacle, which has offices across North America and overseas, specializes in hydraulic fracturing optimization.

Unconventional gas reserves found in tight sandstone formations, gas shales and coal seams are critical to maintaining the level of domestic production in the near-term, according to the National Petroleum Council. Current projections of the Energy Information Administration see nonconventional production growing by 2.2 Tcf, or 28%, through 2030. Unconventional production was 34% of domestic output, or 8 Tcf, in 2005 and is expected to be 50%, or 10.2 Tcf, in 2030.

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