Three field laboratories and six research projects across the United States will be hard at work over the next few years to develop technology that minimizes environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas (UOG) resource development, while maximizing economic and national security benefits.

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced several big projects on Thursday across the United States, selections that are part of an effort launched in July. The projects are to be managed by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and designed to address “critical gaps in knowledge of the characterization, basic subsurface science and new completion/stimulation strategies for tight oil, tight gas and shale gas resources.

Field laboratories projects are being done at the Gas Technology Institute (GTI), Des Plaines, IL and two universities in the Appalachian Basin, Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus; and West Virginia University (WVU), Morgantown.

WVU, along with OSU and Northeast Natural Energy would receive $7.35 million from DOE over a five-year period for an advanced instrumentation study to improve resource recovery from wells in the Marcellus Shale. The partners’ share is $6 million. NETL has worked on other recent well monitoring projects in the Marcellus, but the most recent one involved gas migration (see Shale Daily, Sept. 15; Feb. 14, 2012).

In a second project, a dedicated field site in the Utica Shale is being built with an operating well as a working laboratory for onsite research by OSU, WVU and its partners. The series of tasks would focus on subsurface resources and the environment to augment and advance UOG best practices. DOE over four years would grant $7 million, with the partners providing $4.77 million.

The third project, to be undertaken by GTI, could be the most impactful for all unconventional operators. The three-year program is tasked with developing “knowledge, technologies and procedures to eliminate current hydraulic fracturing inefficiencies by creating effective fractures along the entire length of the horizontal well.”

The net effect of the efficiency improvements “will amount to increased production from shale wells using less water, chemicals, proppants and energy, thereby minimizing environmental impacts,” according to DOE.

The huge research effort includes characterizing test sites in terms of geologic, reservoir engineering and environmental baselines; performing fracturing in a dedicated research well, monitoring the fracturing process using microseismic and tiltmeter technologies, and coring the zones.

DOE is kicking in $12 million over three years, with GTL and its partners providing equal funding.

Six other projects selected by DOE address specific areas and feature initial lab tests and modeling, as well as field testing.

At Montana State University in Bozeman, improved methods for sealing compromised wellbore cement in oil and gas wells would be studied to reduce the risks of gas migration using microbially induced calcite precipitation, which was developed under previous DOE awards. The three-year project would receive $1.53 million from DOE, with the cost share of $405,677.

The University of Texas at Austin would receive $1.61 million and provide $583,228 to build and test over three years a downhole fracture diagnostic tool to determine proppant fracture dimensions, usually different from the created fracture, which are the principal drivers for well productivity.

At Texas Tech University in Lubbock, a study is planned on the mechanism of cyclic gas injection to enhance oil recovery in condensate reservoirs via experiments and modeling, and then through field tests at sites provided by Apache Corp. DOE would provide $1.2 million over three years., while Tech would provide $2.55 million.

San Antonio’s Southwest Research Institute and Schlumberger Technology Corp. plan to develop and field test a process involving gas liquefaction, compression, and pumping to replace water as a cost-effective and environmentally clean fracturing fluid. DOE’s share is $1.28 million, while the partners’ is $320,000 over three years.

Paulsson Inc. in Van Nuys, CA, plans to develop fracture mapping and monitoring technologies with a $4.08 million DOE grant; it agreed to fund $4.44 million in project costs over four years. The primary objectives include developing microseismic emitters with an acoustic signature that can be mixed in small concentrations with conventional proppant and co-injected into the fractures that would track the location of the proppant, and to develop a seismic vector sensor array to deploy in vertical and horizontal wells to monitor data.

GE Global Research in Oklahoma City agreed to provide $$3.11 million and would receive a DOE grant of $2.49 million over two years to develop a novel well-integrity inspection system capable of providing enhanced information about possible flaws in structure and topology of conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells. The imaging technique would combine X-ray and neutron backscatter in a single instrument and fuse the data with complementary information obtained from existing technologies, enabling well integrity inspection without adding fluid to a well.