The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy selected 12 projects to receive roughly $44.5 million for cost-shared research and development (R&D) under its Advanced Technologies for Recovery of Unconventional Oil & Gas Resources funding opportunity.

The fossil energy office said the projects are intended to enhance the characterization and improve the recovery efficiency of emerging unconventional oil and natural gas reservoirs. In 2018, crude oil and natural gas accounted for 57% of all U.S. energy production. Crude oil experienced an increase of 17% and natural gas an increase of 12% from 2017 production.

The projects fall under two areas of interest that include improving recovery from unconventional oil and gas resources and improving operators' understanding of emerging unconventional plays.

The awards were made to the following projects.

All-Digital Sensor System for Distributed Downhole Pressure Monitoring in Unconventional Fields – Clemson University: This $1.875 million project will develop and validate a new low-cost, all-digital pressure sensing technology for in-situ distributed downhole pressure monitoring in unconventional oil and natural gas reservoirs. Once installed, the system can fill data gaps to inform decision making and improve the ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas.

Dynamic Binary Complexes as Super-Adjustable Viscosity Modifiers for Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids – Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station: This $1.84 million project is intended to enhance productivity in shale reservoirs by developing novel viscosifiers called “dynamic binary complex,” or DBCs, with improved viscosities for use in hydraulic fracturing fluids. The project will also investigate properties of DBC-based fracturing fluids and interactions of DBCs with commonly used proppant. The work is intended to contribute to the development of improved viscosifiers that can be used under elevated temperatures, pressures and salinity to improve oil and natural gas recovery from unconventional reservoirs.

Demonstration of Proof of Concept of a Multi-Physics Approach for Near-Real-Time Remote Monitoring of Dynamic Changes in Pressure and Salinity in Hydraulically Fractured Networks – The University of Texas at Austin: This $1.876 million project will demonstrate remote monitoring of geochemistry and pore pressure, advance the development of electromagnetic imaging tools and develop a multi-physics joint inversion package for precise prediction of changes in flow patterns and physiochemical changes. This technology is expected to lead to an enhanced understanding of proppant-filled fracture networks, formation stress state, fluid leak-off and invasion, and characterization of engineered systems in real time, ultimately leading to increased recovery of unconventional oil & natural gas resources.

Fully Distributed Acoustic and Magnetic Field Monitoring via a Single Fiber Line for Optimized Production of Unconventional Resource Plays – Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: This $1.875 million project will develop distributed seismic and electromagnetic sensing technology to enable real-time fracture diagnostics, and optimized stimulation and production. The system will provide measurements with contrast, spatial resolution and functionality not yet realized by other techniques. Once integrated, the technology is expected to represent a step change in subsurface sensing and imaging capabilities that are needed to improve ultimate oil & natural gas recovery from unconventional reservoirs.

Large-Volume Stimulation of Rock for Greatly Enhanced Fluids Recovery Using Targeted Seismic-Assisted Hydraulic Fracturing – Oklahoma State University Stillwater: This $1.875 million project will develop a new technology for large-volume and targeted comminution of rock in low-permeability formations to enhance oil and natural gas recovery from unconventional resources. (Comminution is the action of reducing the particles of a material into a smaller size.) Bulk comminution is expected to cause a significant increase in permeability, leading to enhanced recovery factors for subsurface fluids, including oil and natural gas. The project combines an integrated experimental and computational approach to develop and demonstrate a modular technology that is intended to be easily implemented in the field to augment current practices.

Using Natural Gas Liquids to Recover Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources – Battelle Memorial Institute: This $3.159 million project will develop a method for using unrefined natural gas liquids (NGLs) as fracturing fluid. Using NGLs could increase production from unconventional oil and natural gas reservoirs. This project is intended to provide near-term value for accelerating production in many unconventional reservoirs and provide operators with a roadmap to expand production from unconventional plays.

Enabling Cost-Effective High-Quality Seismic Monitoring of Unconventional Reservoirs with Fiber Optics – MagiQ Technologies Inc.: This $3.125 million project will produce and field test a cost-effective optical seismic sensor system. The project seeks to demonstrate full operation of the system in an environment where conventional sensors are difficult and expensive to deploy due to high temperatures, great depths, and complicated drilling, completion and stimulation programs. By encouraging high-quality monitoring and analysis before, during, and after resource production, the technology will improve the return on investment in unconventional wells by allowing more efficient unconventional oil and natural gas extraction. The system could also reduce costs associated with unconventional production that are inflated by unproductive wells and sub-optimal well treatments.

A Novel “Smart Microchip Proppants” Technology for Precision Diagnostics of Hydraulic Fracture Networks – University of Kansas Center for Research Inc.: This $3.5 million project will develop sensor technology for improved subsurface characterization, visualization and diagnostics of unconventional reservoirs. The technology, which offers precision diagnostics of hydraulic fractures with a novel high-resolution imaging technology based on smart microchip proppants, addresses critical gaps in understanding of unconventional shale reservoir behavior and optimal well completion strategies to enable more cost-effective unconventional resource recovery.

Field Evaluation of the Caney Shale as an Emerging Unconventional Play, Southern Oklahoma – Oklahoma State University Stillwater: This $11.4 million project will establish a field laboratory focused on the Caney Shale in southern Oklahoma to conduct a comprehensive field characterization. The project will experiment and validate cost-effective technologies that will lead to a comprehensive development strategy plan. The project will determine if more ductile shales like the Caney Shale can be produced economically.

Conasauga Shale Research Consortium (CSRC) – University of Kentucky Research Foundation: This $7.8 million project will accelerate the development of the Conasauga group, located in Kentucky and West Virginia, as unconventional oil and natural gas plays. The project will gather data and test different well-completion designs in both theoretical models and in a field application at a horizontal well drilled in Lawrence County, Kentucky. The Conasauga Shale Research Consortium website and data portal will provide all existing public data on the Conasauga Shale, expediting the initial stages of work for future exploration teams. In addition, the petroleum engineering review of past results and data analytics will help direct future operations toward successful techniques for developing the play.

Improving Oil Production in the Emerging Paradox Play – University of Utah: This $10 million project will characterize the regional geology, stress regime, fracture networks and optimal stimulation practices to enable full production of the Paradox unconventional oil play. The project will collect data from three major operators within the basin, including advanced datasets and wells for sampling, analysis, and testing. The team will create discrete fracture network and geomechanical models, which will be used to predict the occurrence of natural fractures and faults, as well as forecast the effectiveness of novel stimulation approaches.

Unlocking the low permeability Oil Reservoirs of the Powder River Basin, Wyoming – University of Wyoming: This $21 million project will establish a low permeability oil field laboratory in the Powder River Basin that will be used to characterize and overcome the technical challenges of developing two major emerging unconventional/shale oil formations, the Mowry Shale and the Belle Fourche Shale Member, as well as the challenging Frontier “tight” sandstone. The ultimate goal of this work is to accelerate the development of three major oil-bearing unconventional resources through detailed geologic characterization and improved geologic models, leading to significant advances in well completion and fracture stimulation designs specific to these formations.