The Department of Energy awarded $3.3 million to seven cost-shared research and development (R&D) projects targeting new technologies that can help producers tap the 169-187 Tcf of deep gas deposits (greater than 15,000-20,000 feet beneath the earth’s surface) located in the United States.

To date, less than 1% of all wells drilled in the United States have penetrated below 15,000 feet, yet their production accounts for nearly 7% of domestic production. The National Petroleum Council in 2003 estimated that this share must rise to 12% by 2010 if the nation’s growing gas demand is to be met. DOE’s Deep Trek R&D funding project focuses on developing an integrated deep-drilling and deep-imaging system that will enable the economic recovery of an additional 100 Tcf of natural gas through 2020.

To date, DOE has awarded 12 Deep Trek projects totaling more than $31 million (with $10 million contributed by research partners) and is currently managing another seven projects focused on resource assessment and improved imaging technology for deep reservoirs.

These new R&D projects will focus on developing the advanced technologies needed to tackle drilling and production challenges posed by natural gas deposits lying more than 20,000 feet below the earth’s surface. At that depth, drillers encounter temperatures greater than 400 degrees F and pressures greater than 15,000 psi, as well as extremely hard rock and corrosive environments. The combination of such conditions stretches the limits of technical capabilities, often leading to increased risks and excessive equipment wear and failures. These circumstances also add up to sharp increases in well costs, DOE notes. With an ultra-deep well, the last 10% of the bore hole can account for 50% of the wells cost. Accordingly, with such high risks and costs, only the biggest and most promising of the deep gas prospects have been drilled.

But as America’s shallower-depth conventional gas production continues a steady decline, the nation must turn increasingly to other gas sources to meet domestic demand. Given the amount of deep gas estimated to be in the U.S. — as much as 97% of the nation’s current total proven conventional natural gas reserves (192 Tcf) — it could be a very rewarding target.

The seven new projects selected include the following:

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