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David Eyton, BP group head of technology, said the world will have more than 20 times the amount of energy it needs to cover its consumption through 2050. He’s banking on new technology and innovations in every phase of the process of finding and extracting gas and oil. Here are some of the new inventions that could make this a reality.
Lasers and LIDAR (a system that combines radar and laser technology) are still-experimental techniques for gas and oil exploration that promise to find reserves quicker and more accurately. For example, a winner of Russian’s Global Energy Prize presented a device that could replace the laborious, multi-step process of identifying a promising reserve. The device combines laser, video-spectromic and thermal imaging systems. Instead of using seismic survey and magnetic exploration, followed by teams that take soil samples and do geochemical testing, this device can detect special molecules from a helicopter flying 200 to 30 meters above the ground, according to St. Petersburg’s Itmo University.
At the end of August, GE Oil & Gas announced the completion of a real-world test of the world’s first subsea gas compression system. The Ormen Lange Pilot with Norske Shell eliminates the need for an offshore rig to bring gas to the surface of the ocean, according to Offshore Technology. Instead, the submerged compressors provide enough pressure to force the gas along pipelines to an onshore facility.
There are several potential benefits of this system: It could be used for exploration and extraction of gas under thick ice like that found in the Arctic. It eliminates the need for drilling ships or rigs that could founder or break. And it might make extraction more palatable to the public. Finally, it eliminates the expense of and danger to skilled offshore workers.
As the barrel price for oil has dropped, energy companies also are looking for more cost-effective ways to extract. In fact, traditional drilling techniques can leave as much as 70 percent of the oil behind, according to TAG Oil, an Australasian oil and gas production and exploration company. New drilling and extraction techniques make it worth returning to mature oil fields.
Refracturing shale oil wells – or refracking – has seen a bloom of innovation. Halliburton’s ACTIVATE refracking pilot project has shown stellar results: up to an 80 percent increase in recovery per well and a reduced cost-per-barrel of up to 66 percent.
The ACTIVATE process uses technology to improve four steps: identifying the likeliest wells; designing the best approach; monitoring the refracking process; and using data analysis to optimize design of future refracking projects.
Researchers at the University of Houston demonstrated a way to increase the amount of oil collected in tertiary extraction with nanotechnology. The oil extraction process begins with pumping the fluid to the surface; next, more is removed by injecting water or gas into the well. The tertiary step usually involves the injection of chemicals into the well to dissolve still more oil; the tertiary process may recover an additional 10 to 20 percent, according to UH.
This new method uses nanofluid to replace some of the chemicals commonly used to boost production, lowering costs and also reducing potential pollution of underground water.
Another tertiary recovery technique is “scouring the well,” according to the Wall St. Journal. Oil-loving microbes are added to the water used to frack. As the microbes multiply, they break up the oil into smaller globules, as well as open new channels for it to move through the rock.
Whether BP is right that these new techniques will provide more than enough fossil-fuel energy to power the planet’s growing needs remains to be seen. What these examples show is that the profession of gas and oil exploration and recovery is changing. Like so many other industries, success will go to those companies that can innovate.