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December 2013/January 2014

Can new research unlock the potential of Wyomings aging oil elds?

December 2013 / January 2014

Wyoming Energy Journal | 3


December 2013 / January 2014

PAGE 8: New technology for power plants coming out of federal labs

New technology for power plants coming out of federal labs, page 5 A conversation with Mark Northam, page 6 Supercomputer research makes wind energy more viable, page 8 New research may boost Wyomings energy industry and diversify its economy, page 11 Inside the Hess Digital Rock Physics Lab at the University of Wyoming, page 15 Making old oil fields new, page 17 University of Wyoming scientists look for ways to boost oil and gas production, page 19 University of Wyoming trying to move beyond slogan of clean coal, page 20 Innovative water treatment breaks ground, page 22 Study: Wyo can economically turn natural gas into gasoline, page 25
ON THE COVER: Haifeng Jiang, a research scientist at the University of Wyomings Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute laboratory, poses for a photo Nov. 5 in Laramie.

PAGE 17: The Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute

Wyoming Energy Journal is published six times each year by the Casper Star-Tribune at 170 Star Lane, Casper, WY 82604-2883. Toll-free: in Wyoming, 800-559-0583 Publisher: Nathan Bekke, 307-266-0503, nathan.bekke@trib.com Operations manager: Tom Biermann, 307-266-0606, tom.biermann@trib.com Energy reporter: Benjamin Storrow, 307-266-0639, benjamin. storrow@trib.com Designer: Carol Seavey, 307-266-0544, carol.seavey@trib.com

PAGE 22: Innovative water treatment breaks ground

4 | Wyoming Energy Journal

December 2013 / January 2014

New technology for power plants coming out of federal labs

By KYLE ROERINK, Star-Tribune staff writer


one are the days when the U.S. Geological Survey was the pioneer of exploration and technological innovation in the energy industry. Universities, private industry and the Department of Energy are now the leading players who push the boundaries for research and development in todays markets for crude, coal, wind, solar and natural gas advancements. The DOEs National Energy Technology Laboratory is the arm of the federal government that keeps the nation ahead of the curve in the energy industry. No matter what youve heard about the Obama administrations war on coal and other fossil fuels, federal scientists are working on an array of projects that will help the industry evolve at a time when more and more people are calling for cleaner, greener energy. Here are three NETL projects Wyoming power plants could see in the next 10 years.

Carbon capture turbines with Integrated Gasication Combine Cycle

For decades, power plants have used IGCC technology to feed turbines by gasifying coal and using carbon monoxide and hydrogen as an energy source. Now NETL scientists want to gasify the coal at higher temperatures and use the hydrogen while replacing the carbon monoxide with carbon dioxide to make cleaner and cheaper energy. NETL scientists have found that power plants will be able to continue to use hydrogen to fuel turbines and remove the carbon dioxide before it hits the atmosphere by gasifying coal at higher temperatures and pressures. Power plants will be able to reduce their costs and the amount of nitrogen produced during gasication if they crank up the heat.
Photo: GE H-Class Gas Turbine on the Half Shell Used for Combined Cycle Operation. (Courtesy of NETL)

Oxy-Fuel Turbines
Its a brand new concept unseen anywhere in the world. It will take a synthesis of either coal byproducts or natural gas to act as one half of the working uid inside the turbine. The solution will be mixed with pure oxygen and combusted to create the other half, creating a working uid of water and carbon dioxide. Since the oxygen is pure there will be no thermal oxides from nitrogen derived from combustion, and the water leaving the turbine as exhaust can be easily condensed and captured.
Photo: Face plate of a Clean Energy System Inc. oxy-fuel combustor. (Courtesy of NETL)

Alloys, Steels and Coatings

Power plants need to burn at higher temperatures and handle greater pressures to reduce emissions. NETL is coupling its push to advance more energy efficient turbines with its effort to create alloys, steels and coatings for power plants that will handle more heat and higher pressures. The goal is creating materials that can withstand up to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit and 5,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Photo: An extruded Inconel 740H pipe that is suitable for high temperature and pressure conditions is being produced. (Courtesy of NETL)

December 2013 / January 2014

Wyoming Energy Journal | 5

ark Northam is the director of the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources. He sat down with the Casper Star-Tribune in early November to talk about research and development in the state - and how it is impacting Wyomings energy industry. CST: Why is research and development important to the Wyoming energy industry?


Big dollars, big solutions

A conversation with Mark Northam
By BENJAMIN STORROW, Star-Tribune staff writer

Northam: The economy of the state is heavily tied to the production of energy resources, oil, gas, coal, uranium, wind. We sell it all as commodities so that as the national economy waxes and wanes the value to the state goes up and down. It wreaks havoc on our economy. There are a number of reasons for research. One is to ensure that we get optimum recovery of those resources from discovered elds and mines. In every case, we leave a lot of it behind. The second is if we can do research on ways to add value to it in the state. We consume cheap resources and create valuable products like motor fuels, petrochemicals, etc. We not only create jobs in Wyoming, but we remove ourselves one step from that boom and bust cycle caused by selling commodities. CST: What role does the University of Wyoming play in the research and development sector in the state?
6 | Wyoming Energy Journal

Northam: The School of Energy Resources helps create the strategy on where we should focus. The state funds the School of Energy Resources and we in turn award funds in the form of grant to faculty doing research that align with that strategy. I would say that the rst level the school provides is making sure that our strategic direction aligns with the needs of the state. The second is as a custodian of the states investment to ensure that the funds are invested in the appropriate areas. CST: What is the strategic direction of the state? Northam: Right now there are two main things the school is involved in. We are the owners of the strategic investment in unconventional reservoirs. Weve expanded the denition of unconventional reservoirs to include shale oil, shale gas, tight gas those are all traditional unconventional resources. We are also including mature oil and gas elds. Oil and gas elds that have basically given up nearly everything we can get out of the ground. In most cases, there is about half of what was originally there in place. That is where the improved and enhanced oil recovery programs come in. The other strategic area we are investing in is what we call conversion technology. That area we are focused on conversion of RYAN DORGAN | STAR-TRIBUNE natural gas and coal to resources Director of the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources Mark that we have in abundance, but Northam poses for a portrait Nov. 5 in Laramie.
December 2013 / January 2014

dont do anything with other than sell it to other people. Were focused on converting to higher value products, specically motor fuels and petrochemicals.

mark on the future in how we get left-behind oil out of a reservoir. Again, Im talking only about the energy areas. I think we are doing a good job of the early stages of how do we CST: Can we put a dollar convert synthesis gas which is amount on the research being CST: What are we doing well the synthesis of coal and natural done here? today in Wyoming in terms of gas to petrochemical precursors. R&D and what do we need to Those would be raw materials Northam: Not one Id be comdo better? that we would then ship to the fortable with. I can say the state chemical industry and they take it has invested about $35 million Northam: In a broad sense, were and make the things that become that has been matched one to one doing well at multidiscipline plastics and textiles and chemicals by outside entities in what they programmatic research. One of that are sold. call clean coal and conversion them is in reservoir characterizaI think were doing an exceltechnologies. That has all been tion. That is experiential work in lent job for developing procedures put to work. That is an $80 million the laboratory that denes where for reclaiming disturbed lands, program and has been going since fossil energy resources are located lands that are disturbed for energy 2007. in a reservoir and how they move production. That is through the The state has invested $1.6 mil- through a reservoir. A related Wyoming Reclamation and Restolion in in-situ uranium recovery piece is the computational science ration Center. research. The state has invested that allows us to take what we $13 million in carbon sequestrand in the laboratory and scale CST: And what do we need to tion research, which is related to up and simulate to the eld scale. do better? our energy programs because it is Thats an area where were doing a way of reducing carbon emisextremely well. Northam: Personally, I believe, sions into the atmosphere. Those In the area of enhanced and and some people would disagree, are separate funded programs that improved oil recovery we are that we need to do a better job of the state provided funding for. building programs that will leave a taking fundamental research and

We probably invested over time about 40 percent of SERs base budget in research; that base funding would come to about $20 million. That is to fund just research.

moving it through the pipeline and making it available to operators in the state. Thats a general area. A more specic area, we need to do a better job reducing emissions from coal and natural gas. We are very good, I think were among the best, at dening a project where we would store the carbon dioxide underground. But we have very little in the way of how do we actually remove carbon dioxide from emission streams. Thats something we will be focusing on during this Tier One College of Engineering initiative, is developing an area there. The holy grail for keeping fossil energy in clean energy markets is cheap methods for reducing CO2 emissions. We can do it now, but it is too costly to become a commercial entity.

Reach Benjamin Storrow at 307-266-0639 or benjamin. storrow@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @bstorrow

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December 2013 / January 2014 Wyoming Energy Journal | 7

Big think
Supercomputer research makes wind energy more viable
Story by KYLE ROERINK, Star-Tribune staff writer Photos by ALAN ROGERS, Star-Tribune staff photographer

The NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center is shown on Nov. 7 in Cheyenne.

umans have failed to Weve done a lot of work to predict the weather for make sure the machine is full, millennia. he said. A supercomputer in WyoIn its rst year of operation, ming may change that. Yellowstone has explored the Its name is Yellowstone and nature of tornadoes, hurriit is the brainchild of the Nacanes, water shortages, solar tional Center for Atmospheric patterns and wind. Scientists Research and IBM. It makes hope it will give them a better 1.5 quadrillion computations understanding of the world. per second and is 72,288 times Energy companies hope it will faster than your average laptop make them more money. computer. The supercomputer sits a Yellowstone may be the key few miles from the Happy Jack to forecasting the weather Wind Farm outside of Cheybetter than ever before while enne. The turbines are visible making renewable energy in the distance. sources more reliable. Pinning On a warm day in November, the computer as a panacea may the turbines moved sluggishly seem like a fools errand, but despite the wind. it has the faith Researchers of preeminent at NCAR and Weve done a lot of the University researchers across the work to make sure of Wyoming are globe. The the machine is full. hoping to allevibreadth of ate the problem Aaron Andersen, deputy director Yellowstones by giving utility for operations and services at the capabilities is NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputer companies better so large that reCenter in Cheyenne data to make ensearches from hanced decisions around the about where to world are waiting in line to run install turbines to get the most experiments on the machine. bangs for their bucks. While NCAR is 200 percent over the Happy Jack Wind Farm was requested allocations for run- having a slow morning, Yelning simulations on Yellowlowstone was likely working stone, said Aaron Andersen, computations to study how deputy director for operations wind moves around mounand services at the NCAR-Wy- tains, travels at night and ricooming Supercomputer Center chets off turbines. in Cheyenne. Ten years ago this wasnt The machine is working be- being done, said Sue Haupt, tween 96 and 98 percent of its director of the Weather Syscapacity at any given time, he tems Assessment Program for said. NCAR.
December 2013 / January 2014

The Yellowstone supercomputer at the NCARWyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne contains 70,000 processor cores. By comparison, a modern laptop computer typically contains two or four cores.

Aaron Andersen, deputy director for operations and services at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center, is pictured outside the facility Cheyenne.

NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne was built in a modular fashion that will allow the facility to expand as needed.

Wyoming Energy Journal | 9

Its situational awareness, she said. The supercomputer is a game changer because it has the ability to model whole wind farms and simulate weather patterns that span from coast to coast. The advanced modeling techniques provide scientists with a detailed picture of when and why turbines turn. The data spewing out of Yellowstone will also help preserve turbines. In an ideal world, a turbine should last 20 years, Haupt said. But their actual lifespan has been less than 10, she said. Atmospheric turbulence known as eddies is the problem. They cause vibrations that beat on gear boxes and elicit other damages that prematurely deteriorate turbines. Yellowstone will one day be able to lay out a plan for turbine engineers to create turbines that can withstand eddies, Haupt said. Eddies are just a fact of life, she said. By plugging in data from NASA satellites, researchers at NCAR have also been able to run simulations that predict weather patterns across the nation that range from 15 minutes to six hours from the present. After enough test runs, NCAR scientists hope the data will delineate precise cloud movements and other weather fronts that will give utility companies accurate timetables for when to take renewables online and offline. Weather isnt static, Haupt said, and Yellowstones data will one day be able to give utilities something theyve never had before: More time to plan ahead. With a 24 hours notice, utility companies will be able to know when to switch from coal or natural gas to a renewable source. The foresight could be lucrative. We want to make them more money, said Jonathan Naughton, a mechanical engineering professor and director of UWs Wind Energy Research Center. As wind power use gains momentum, wind farms continue to become larger and larger, Naugh10 | Wyoming Energy Journal

An evaporative cooling tower is shown at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center on Nov. 7 in Cheyenne.

ton said. He and his colleagues are researching the best way to lay out turbines for harvesting wind. Smaller wind farms usually sit in a linear row so wind doesnt have to recycle from one turbine to another. But in larger farms where turbines are stacked in rows. The wind will pass through one turbine and lose energy before it enters the next, Naughton said. Known as a wake, Naughton and his peers are looking to capture the 40 to 50 percent of energy lost in passing from one turbine to the next. They are doing massive

simulations to gure out how to capture reinvigorated wind after it passes through one turbine before it enters into the next, he said. For turbine engineers, UWs data will be like a car engineer learning more about the fuel that goes into an engine, Naughton said. We had ideas but we needed the horse power of Yellowstone to have the simulations we could work with, he said. UW is one school in a number of higher education institutions accessing Yellowstone, but it has a home eld advantage.

UW pumped $20 million into Yellowstone and will add $1 million each year for the next 20 years. The payoff is that it doesnt have to wait in a long line for access to the computer. It is guaranteed 20 percent of Yellowstones computing space. Aside from wind projects, UW researchers have used Yellowstone to study seismic activity and the effects of pine beetle infestations on the water ow in the Green River Basin. Researchers have also used the computer to look at the Colorado Basin water supply and oil and natural gas supplies. Many more projects will be coming down the pike. Yellowstones designers made sure of it. Andersen and facility operations manager Gary New designed the building so the computer and its data storage area can double in size. Yellowstone is festooned with braids of yellow Ethernet cords and orange ber-optic cables that run along thousands of processors stored in refrigerator-like cabinets in a temperature-controlled room. New and Andersen expect there to be more in the future. Hard drives sit in units that look like a mix between a greenhouse and a storage shed. The computer is creating a ton of data, Andersen said. You need some place to store it. The mammoth computer refrains from overheating thanks to a tower-controlled evaporative cooling system designed similarly to a car radiator that uses a water loop to act as the medium for convection. Cheyenne Light and Power provides energy to the facility. Ten percent of the energy fueling the supercomputer and the facility comes from wind energy produced at the Happy Jack Wind Farm. Traditional resources such as coal power the remainder. Just like the research being performed using Yellowstone, A complex like NCARs in Cheyenne wasnt something that existed 10 years ago. Its world-class right now, Andersen said.
December 2013 / January 2014


Dr. Mohammad Piri holds a collection of small rock pieces to be tested and observed inside a nano-CT scanner Nov. 5 at the University of Wyomings Hess Digital Rock Physics Laboratory in Laramie.

Equipping the hunt

By BENJAMIN STORROW, Star-Tribune staff writer

New research may boost Wyomings energy industry and diversify its economy

he signs of the energy boom are everywhere at the Energy Innovation Center, the $25.4 million building the University of Wyoming opened on its Laramie campus in January. There is the Questar Conference Room with the windows that fog, preventing anyone outside from seeing in. There is the Encana Auditorium with the 3-by-2 matrix tile wall capable of showing images generated by the Shell 3-D Visualization laboratory a few doors down the hallway. The Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute laboratory boasts a face behavior apparatus to study the interactions of carbon dioxide and natural gas, and the slim tube apparatus to determine how much pressure to exert on an oil reservoir.
Wyoming Energy Journal | 11

December 2013 / January 2014

Over at the Hess Digital Rocks Physics Laboratory scientists use a focused ion beam-scanning electron microscope and a series of high resolution scanners to test how oil, gas and chemical stimulants interact in rock formations. The gleaming hallways and sparkling laboratories reect the wave of new technology altering the oil and gas industry landscape. Technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, to name just two of the more famous examples, are helping producers unlock the Cowboy States previously inaccessible reservoirs of hydrocarbons. Its a lucrative cycle. As new technologies bring more product to the market, more money is invested in research and development to bring yet even more product to bear. The stakes are potentially enormous. Wyomings oil reserves alone stand at an estimated 15 billion barrels, one to two billion of which scientists believe can be extracted from the ground in coming decades. The research being done at the Energy Innovation Center will help determine exactly how much oil and gas will come out of the ground and how quickly. But in a state with an economy still vulnerable to uctuations in commodity prices, the question is not just how much oil and gas new research can help coax from the ground. It is also whether research can be a means to its own end. Wyoming booms when oil, gas and coal prices climb, and busts when they fall, noted Mark Northam, director of the UW School of Energy Resources. If we are selling the majority of those natural resources as commodities, especially if we are working with companies outside the state of Wyoming, than we are no different from a Third World country, Northam said. We are an energy colony of the rest of the U.S. Wyoming ranks last among all 50 states in research and development. The state produced some $154 million in research and development expenditures in 2008,
12 | Wyoming Energy Journal


A slim tube apparatus designed to simulate the high-pressure, high-heat subterranean environments used in oil exploration is seen Nov. 5 at the University of Wyomings Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute laboratory in Laramie.

December 2013 / January 2014


J. David Mohrbacher, director of the University of Wyomings Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute, poses for a portrait Nov. 5 in Laramie.

the last year for which complete gures were available, according to the National Science Foundation. South Dakota, with expenditures of $254 million, was 49th. In 2011, UW recorded some $57 million in total research and development expenditures, good for a national ranking of 190 out of about 900 colleges and universities. Wyoming conferred 57 doctorate degrees the same year, earning a ranking of 181, according to NSF data. Research and development can be a buffer against the traditional cycle of boom and bust, Northam said. If, for instance, the state developed the ability to convert petroleum into petrochemicals, diesel and ethylene, it would add value to the initial product. SudDecember 2013 / January 2014

denly, instead of selling one com- among a long list of other producmodity the state is selling three, ers, all operated in the state and lessening its reliance on oil and employed large research departgas prices while adding jobs and ments. But when oil prices colincreasing tax revenues, he said. lapsed in the mid-80s, the large Wyocompanies ming left. They boasted a sold their formidable Wyoming research and oil elds and developtook their ment presresearch deence during partments the oil with them. boom of the There J. David Mohrbacher, Director of the early 1980s, was a huge University of Wyomings Enhanced Oil said David exodus of Recovery Institute Mohrknow-how bacher, in the state, the director of the Enhanced Oil he said. Recovery Institute (EORI) at UW. The new wave of technology ExxonMobil, Shell and Amoco, not only helps producers iden-

Our job is to keep the cost of producing with advanced technology low.

tify new resources, but offers a buffer against boom and bust, he said. EORI performs much of the research small operators cant. Not only does that help them recover more oil, it helps them keep production costs down. If oil prices fall from $106 a barrel, their current price, to $70 a barrel the producer can still make a prot because their research is covered, he said. Our job is to keep the cost of producing with advanced technology low, Mohrbacher said. There is another notable difference between the research and development being done today and in the 80s. In the 80s, companies were ercely protective of their research, guarding it jealously lest it lend a competitor the advanWyoming Energy Journal | 13


Tools and fittings used in testing rocks and fluids seen in oil reservoirs are seen Nov. 5 at the University of Wyomings Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute laboratory in Laramie.


Haifeng Jiang, a research scientist at the University of Wyomings Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute laboratory, works with a slim tube apparatus designed to simulate the high-pressure, high-heat subterranean environments used in oil exploration Nov. 5 in Laramie.

tage. Today companies are sharing information through UW, Mohrbacher said. EORI sponsors two working groups, one in the Powder River Basins Minnelusa formation and another in Ten Sleep Reservoir, comprising the Bighorn and Wind River basins. Producers in both areas share research about the effectiveness of techniques used in their respective elds. Their research is supplemented by work done by university researchers.
14 | Wyoming Energy Journal

Together, you could say the groups are trying to identify the best extractive practice for their respective formations. Shane True, a geologist at the Casper-based True Oil Co., noted that EORIs expanded waterooding plan helped increase production in the Timber Creek oil eld in the Powder River Basin. By Mohrbachers estimate, production there doubled. Some 5 million barrels of oil are expected to be produced at the eld during the

next two to three decades. It improved our understanding of the Minnelusa and we will try to do similar things in our other elds, True said. EORIs intent is to serve the public good. What they have learned will be open to public, which helps increase production and the tax base. It remains to be seen if Wyoming can develop a research and development sector capable of buoying the economy in difficult times. But there is at least anecdotal evidence to suggest that the energy boom is boosting the Cowboy States research capabilities. Exxon Mobile recently gave the School of Energy Resources a $2.5 million grant, which was matched by the state, for improved oil and gas recovery research. The goal is to increase recovery rates by exploring everything from improved collaboration between chemists, geologists and engineers to using tested extraction methods in new ways. That research is expected to take years before reaching the eld. The new Digital Physics Lab at UW uses high resolution imaging to study how oil, rock and stimulants injected into uids interact. At its most basic, the labs mission is to identify the chemical concoction that will maximize oil ow from an underground geologic formation. The technology is not

yet widely used in the eld, but researchers at UW hope it will be soon. Then there is the applied research. EORIs work with many of the states small operators is a prime example. Their work is especially notable, as nearly 90 percent of the states oil is produced in elds that have been in production for more than 25 years. Those elds likely contain between 15 billion and 20 billion barrels of oil, Mohrbacher said. Of that, around one billion to two billion barrels can likely be recovered in coming decades. The economic impact of bringing that oil to the surface is signicant. EORI-assisted projects at Timber Creek in the Powder River Basin and Grieve oil eld near Casper will produce some $150 million in tax revenue during the course of their operational lifetimes, Mohrbacher said. The state is doing well in research and development, but it clearly can do better, said Northam, the School of Energy Resources director. R&D allows us to climb the ladder to becoming a more advanced economy, he said.

Reach energy reportBenjamin Storrow at 307-266-0639 or benjamin.storrow@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @bstorrow
December 2013 / January 2014


Mohammad Piri speaks with a research scientist Nov. 5 at the University of Wyomings Hess Digital Rock Physics Laboratory in Laramie.

Opening the black box

Inside the Hess Digital Rock Physics Lab at the University of Wyoming
By BENJAMIN STORROW, Star-Tribune staff writer ohammad Piri likens his research to opening a black box. The box is the earths subsurface and its contents are M the estimated reserves of untapped oil and gas. Scientists, engineers and producers have spent more than a century probing the box. They have drilled vertical wells into it, and horizontal ones. They have injected water, carbon dioxide and soaps, among other things, into the box to stimulate oil and gas ow. A common thread connects all the different methods. No matter how they coaxed the box to give up its treasure of hydrocarbons, none could look inside it and say for sure what was happening.
December 2013 / January 2014 Wyoming Energy Journal | 15

How does oil, gas and brine sit in rock pores and how does they move through those pores when a stimulant like water is added? How do oil, gas, brine, rock and stimulant interact under extreme pressure and high temperatures? Those are the questions the Hess Digital Rocks Physics Laboratory at the University of Wyoming seeks to answer. The lab opened in September with a $4.4 million donation from the Hess Corporation, a New York Citybased oil company. Digital rock physics is being driven by the large oil and gas plays in shale formations. The Bakken in North Dakota is perhaps the most famous example in the United States, if not the world. Successful as those plays have been, they only recover a fraction of the oil and gas estimated to lie within the rocks. Shale formations usually yield less than percent of the hydrocarbons they contain, said Piri, an associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and the labs director. The lack of understanding of what is happening in these reservoirs is driving the development of this type of laboratory, Piri said. The lab, he added, provides an opportunity to study these ow problems that can potentially improve recoveries from these reservoirs. That is why digital rock physics is becoming important. How much more oil and gas might be recovered? Piri cannot yet say, but he hopes the lab might produce an answer in the coming years. The technology the lab employs is not terribly unique. X-ray imaging has been around for a while and the CT scanners on display are not unlike those you would nd at a hospital. What is unique is how those technologies have been integrated to study the interactions of rock, oil and stimulant. The labs operations might be thought of in three basic functions. The rst is the study of the oil-bearing rock itself. Using high powered cameras that can
16 | Wyoming Energy Journal


ABOVE: Soheil Saraji, a postdoctorate research scientist, performs research Nov. 5 at the University of Wyomings Hess Digital Rock Physics Laboratory in Laramie. RIGHT: Mohammad Piri holds small cylinders of stone used to study how different fluids flow and settle in the rocks pores Nov. 5 at the University of Wyomings Hess Digital Rock Physics Laboratory in Laramie.

examine down to 50 millionths of a millimeter, scientists can see the individual pores in the rock where oil or gas might sit. Viewing how a droplet of oil sits on rock might appear inconsequential at rst glance. But how the oil clings to the rock has important implications for bringing it out of the ground, Piri said. The second step is injecting a stimulant into the rock. The high resolution cameras then record the interaction between stimulant, rock and oil. The third and nal step is an attempt to re-create the condi-

tions found beneath the ground. Essentially, that means exerting large amounts of pressure and high temperature on the rock and uids used in the rst two steps. The basic purpose is to identify the chemical recipe that will maximize the amount of oil that ows from the formation, Piri said. In the past, researchers used high resolution cameras to examine the geology of rock samples, Piri said. They later used CT scanners to try and document ow. But never before has that technology been integrated to measure ow on

a pore by pore basis. The University of Wyoming, to the best of my knowledge, is the only institution that has integrated multi-scale imaging and reservoir condition ow for oil and gas applications, Piri said. And that brought him back to the black box. The drilling and simulation technologies used to bring oil and gas from the ground were once unseen. Now we can actually see it, Piri said. Seeing it, he hopes, will benet oil and gas production for generations to come.
December 2013 / January 2014

Making old oil fields new

Inside The Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute
Star-Tribune staff writer

he Osage Field near Newcastle had seen better days when the Sunshine Valley Petroleum Company bought it in 2012. The aging oil eld is one of the continually producing elds in Wyoming. Of the some 600 operating oil wells, 200 were producing and each of those was only managing a meager barrel a day, barely enough to be economical. An oil mining company had recently tried and failed to make the eld protable. We got it for a good price because it wasnt economic to begin with, said Marron BingleDavis, a geologist for the Sunshine Valley subsidiary Osage Partners, LLC. Its been hobbling along for a time. Sunshine Valley nonetheless saw promise in Osage. (The company operates the eld through its subsidiary (Osage Partners, LLC.) The eld produced approximately 30 million barrels of oil since its rst wells were drilled around 1920. The company estimated that roughly three quarters, or some 95 million barrels of oil, remained locked beneath the surface. But to access it they would need to try something new. Traditional extraction methods had pumped nearly all they could from the ground. And so Sunshine Valley developed a plan using new technology to access what traditional methods could not. Still there was a problem. Sunshine Valley operates 2,000 wells across Wyoming and employs around 50 people. ExxonMobil it is not. The company cannot afford the expensive research needed to effectively deploy the new technology that would make Osage protable.
December 2013 / January 2014


Haifeng Jiang, a research scientist at the University of Wyomings Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute laboratory, works with a vessel used for liquid transfers Nov. 5 in Laramie.

Enter the Enhanced Oil Recov- those in the coming decades. Put ery Institute (EORI) at the Univer- differently, Wyomings mature oil sity of Wyoelds generally ming. EORI recover 30 to was created 60 percent of Oil could stick on by the state oil they are rock, like dirty dishes. the Legislature in estimated to 2004 to help contain. We have to wash it small opEORIs off like the dishes, erators increase mission is to explained Sheena Xie, do the research production at the states that will help EORI lab manager. mature oil get the reelds. Prying Sheena Xie, EORI lab manager maining oil out the unrecovof the ground. ered oil from We do a those elds represents a potenlot of a research and technical work tially hefty prize. Wyoming has an that they cannot do because it is estimated 15 to 20 billion barrels pricey, said Laura Dalles, outreach of untapped oil reserves. EORIs coordinator at EORI, speaking goal is to recover 1 to 2 billion of of the states smaller producers.

Then we help them take it to the eld. Oil production can be thought of in three stages. The rst stage, generally speaking, involves drilling a well and relying on the pressure within the earth to bring the oil to the surface. The secondary stage mainly involves injecting water into wells to stimulate production. And the third stage involves injecting steam, carbon dioxides, soaps and polymers into a reservoir, essentially cleaning the oil from the rock. Oil could stick on rock, like dirty dishes. We have to wash it off like the dishes, explained Sheena Xie, EORI lab manager. EORI focuses on the second and third stages.
Wyoming Energy Journal | 17

Many times, the scope of the work in Wyomings mature elds is not large enough to justify the investment in a consultant who can help companies maximize production, said Vicki Stamp, a reservoir engineer at True Oil who has worked with EORI for years. By comparison, EORIs research is a relative bargain. Companies provide the institute with rock samples from the formations they are looking to drill. EORI in turn provides them with information about the rock formations characteristics and a series of recommendations on how to recover the remaining oil. That might include everything from an expanded waterooding plan to ne tuning the chemicals in the waterood to boost production. That research helps extend the life of the eld, Stamp said. Many of these elds were drilled and developed 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, Stamp said. The low hanging fruit has been produced. To get at this additional barrel requires some additional work. It does provide a more hopeful outlook for these elds. Her colleague Shane True, a geologist at the Casper-based oil company, described the impact of EORIs work like this: Without this research wed have to plug these elds. Wed have to reassign or let go our staff working in northeast Wyoming. In the case of Osage, a century of waterooding was damaging the rock formation and hindering production. Before Sunshine Valley restarted the waterood it needed to know the geological characteristics of the formation. EORI did that research for the company. Sunshine Valley is now working with Tiorco, a Denverbased enhanced oil recovery company, and EORI to ne tune the chemicals used in the water ood. Those chemicals include soaps, gels and clay stabilizers to make sure the rock doesnt swell with water The hope is to recover somewhere between 10 to 15 percent of the 95 million barrels remaining in the eld.
18 | Wyoming Energy Journal


Haifeng Jiang, a research assistant at the University of Wyomings Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute laboratory, works Nov. 5 inside the lab in Laramie.

Bingle-Davis, the Osage geologists, called EORIs contribution essential. These analyses would otherwise not be available to us as a

small operator, Bingle-Davis said. Essentially we can design the best waterood possible to recover the most amount of oil without making major mistakes that might

hinder the recovery process.

Reach Benjamin Storrow at 307-266-0639 or benjamin. storrow@trib.com.

December 2013 / January 2014

Beyond fracking
University of Wyoming scientists look for ways to boost oil and gas production
point How do we access more? That is the real R&D question. The university researchers like Alvarado have a signicant partner in their quest. ExxonMobil donated $2.5 million to the School of Energy Resources Improved Oil and Gas Recovery program in February. The state made a matching $2.5 million contribution of its own. So how does one go about improving oil and gas production in shale formations? In several ways it turns out. One is relatively simple: improve collaboration between the scientists that work in the energy sector. When I started in the industry, we used to call it throwing projects over the fence, said Mark Northam, director of the School of Energy Resources. Geologists would start with it, do the best job they could and then throw it over the fence to the engineer. The engineer would get a geologic model and go wow, thats a great geologic model but I can simulate that. Thats too complex. And then the pair would begin arguing. The idea is to get chemists, geologists, petroleum engineers, physicists and computational scientists to name a few speaking the same language, Alvarado said. Something is lost in translation when, say, an engineer is trying to describe a problem to a chemist. The two understand a different problem and thus work towards different solutions. Its not so much about being a generalist as about being multilingual person able to communicate with specialists, Alvarado said. The Improved Oil and Gas Recovery program comprises four By BENJAMIN STORROW
Star-Tribune staff writer

erms like horizontal drilling and fracking, as hydraulic fracturing is commonly referred to, are well known now. The two technologies have sent U.S. energy production soaring in recent years, as previously inaccessible reservoirs of oil and gas have been unlocked in places like North Dakota, Pennsylvania and New York. American natural gas production is up by more than a quarter on the decade. In October, crude oil production reached daily levels not seen since 1989. And a recent report by the International Energy Agency projected the U.S. will become the worlds largest oil producer by 2015, surpassing the likes of Saudi Arabia and Russia. Time to take step back and breathe a little, right? Not exactly. Scientists at the University of Wyoming are looking at new ways to improve oil and gas recovery even further. It sounds counterintuitive at rst pass. How do you improve upon the technologies that will make the U.S. the worlds energy leaders in two years time? Well, consider this. The recent energy boom has largely centered on shale formations. Techniques like fracking and horizontal drilling usually help recover between 4 to 12 percent of the oil and gas those formations are estimated to contain, leaving a signicant prize left trapped within the ground. What we want is to go beyond horizontal drilling and fracking, said Vladimir Alvarado, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Wyoming. That is a starting
December 2013 / January 2014

want to improve oil ow so more of it ows out of the reservoir. Doing that requires ne-tuning of the chemical concoction injected into the reservoir, he said. Yet that is only half of Alvarados attempt to shake up the paradigm. The other half relies on when that chemical concoction is injected in the reservoir. Instead of waiting to inject the chemical until later in the elds operating life, as is often the case now, the chemical should be injected at the beginning, he said. Shale gas offers a template for improving shale oil production, Alvarado said. Gas production is relatively simple compared to oil production, but often times the RYAN DORGAN | STAR-TRIBUNE reservoir are similar, mean similar Associate Professor of Chemical production methods can be used and Petroleum Engineering in both. Vladimir Alvarado poses for a We learned to do the extended portrait Nov. 5 at the University horizontal wells from shale gas. We of Wyoming School of Energy just borrowed that technology to Resources in Laramie. do shale oil, Alvarado said. The faculty members from the chemmassive number of fracking stages isty, geology, chemical engineerin shale gas, we just transferred ing and chemical and petroleum that to shale oil. engineering departments. Such an Using shale gas production as a approach is becoming increasingly model can help focus oil research common in industry, as teams of and keep research costs down. In scientists approach challenges on a the 1980s, many laboratory exproject or programmatic basis. periments tried in the eld failed. Things get more complicated That was costly, Alvarado said. when it comes to the actual sciUsing methods used in shale gas ence that might boost production production increases the likelilevels. Alvarado likes to talk about hood shale oil research will be challenging the paradigm of oil successful. and gas production. What does And that increases the chances that mean exactly? Traditionally, that more oil and gas will come out as oil elds mature operators turn of the ground. to what are essentially cleaning There are two ways in insolutions to glean oil stuck to the dustry to bring more resources to rock. But instead of cleaning oil the surface, Alvarado said. You from the rock, Alvarado and his discover new ones, or you access team are focusing on how to imthe known ones. This makes more prove oil mobility. Basically, they of the known ones.
Wyoming Energy Journal | 19

December 2013 / January 2014

Wyoming Energy Journal | 21


Carrie Eppelheimer of Dow, left, and Randy Phillips of Encana, center, review a map of the Moneta Divide oil and gas development at the future site of Encanas Neptune Water Treatment Facility.

Innovative water treatment breaks ground

Facility will be the third largest of its kind in the world

Star-Tribune staff writer

yoming oil and gas developers have long struggled with what to do with water removed during extraction. Some leave it in ponds to evaporate, others recycle it back into production, said Paul Ulrich, project lead for Encana. But Encanas elds in the Moneta Divide between Casper and Shoshone produced so much water, the company needed another method. In early November, Encana broke ground on what will be the third largest water treatment plant of its kind, to be completed in June. The Neptune Water Treatment Facility will take produced water extracted during gas development, remove salts and make it as pure as drinking water. The facility could produce as much as one million gallons of water each day.
22 | Wyoming Energy Journal December 2013 / January 2014

We have to get very creative or innovative on how to manage our water, not only to be good environmental stewards but also do it economically, Ulrich said. The idea for the facility was born out of necessity. Water removed and processed during gas development in the Moneta Divide is salty. Chemicals and other organic materials could be removed, but the salt could not. The elds permits only allowed a certain amount of salt to be deposited on the ground, said Bill DiRienzo, discharge permitting program manager with the Department of Environmental Quality. The Department of Environmental Quality required Encana to cut back the amount of salt it was COURTESY producing, which meant the comAn artists rendering of Encanas Neptune Water Treatment Facility, to be located in the Moneta Divide oil and pany had to reduce the number of gas development. wells it ran, he said. Right now, most of the treated This plant will allow them to water will run down Alkali Creek treat enough water to bring those as it has since production began. wells back into production, he Once the eld is up and running said. at maximum capacity which Encana has spent the past couple of years working with Dow will rst require approval of the environmental impact stateWater and Proment Encana cess Solutions will pump the and GE to create We have to get water from the the plant, Ulrich very creative or plants through a said. Right now, innovative on how pipeline and into Boysen Reservoir. the eld operto manage our The water will ates about 280 wells, Ulrich water, not only to be be tested daily by Ulrich said. Plans are good environmental Encana, said. for a total of stewards but also do A pipeline 4,100 wells eventually makes during the next it economically. COURTESY more sense than The future site of Encanas Neptune Water Treatment Facility, to be 30 years. The sending the wa- located in the Moneta Divide oil and gas development. wells will cover Paul Ulrich, project lead ter down a creek, about 265,000 for Encana water running in the Wind River in Wyoming, and he is interested to DiRienzo said. acres in Fremont see if it works, he said. One million bar- through Wind River Canyon. and Natrona It doesnt make sense to treat The facility wont be visible rels of water is roughly the same as counties. from U.S. Highway 20/26 running More plants will be built as the 65 cubic feet per second, the same it like that and then drop it on the between Casper and Shoshone, eld expands, processing up to one amount as a small river. That kind ground and let it run for 30 miles, DiRienzo said. It makes more Ulrich said. But once it is up and million barrels of water each day at of ow into a creek could cause sense to keep it clean and put it in running, Encana will be eager to erosion issues, he said. full capacity, he said. the pipe and send it down where show it off. The ground in the Moneta The building itself will be half it will be cleaner or as clean as the Divide area is also barren and has the size of a football eld. The water in Boysen. water treated each day could ll an a high level of alkali. The DepartReach Christine Peterson DiRienzo called the Neptune ment of Environmental Quality Olympic-sized swimming pool, at 307-746-3121 or christine. facility a pilot project. None like it peterson@trib.com. Follow her according to a fact sheet provided will require Encana to treat the has been used in oil and gas elds on Twitter @PetersonOutside. wastewater to be as pure as the by Encana.
December 2013 / January 2014 Wyoming Energy Journal | 23


The Shell Pearl GTL plant in Qatar, the largest natural gas to liquids conversion plant in the world.

December 2013 / January 2014


The Shell Pearl GTL plant in Qatar, the largest natural gas to liquids conversion plant in the world.

Study: Wyo can economically turn natural gas into gasoline

By SUSAN ANDERSON, Business editor
into future projects, according to an energy researcher and also a deputy director of the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources. Lawmakers paid for a study by Laramie-based Western Research Institute (WRI) to develop ways to add value to Wyomings natural gas resource by possibly turning it into liquid transportation fuels and chemicals such as gasoline and diesel. The source of the gas would be so-called

urning natural gas into gasoline could be a profitable business in Wyoming on a small scale, according to a study commissioned by the state Legislature in 2012. And companies are looking
December 2013 / January 2014

stranded natural gas, remote enough from a pipeline that building an infrastructure to get to it cant be justied. WRI was asked to study if that remote gas could be turned into much more transportable liquid
Wyoming Energy Journal | 25

build what they called a properly scaled plant in Wyoming. Properly scaled means small, not the billion-dollar plant pictured by some hopeful people in the state. Dr. Vijay Sethi, the lead researcher, said that whats new in this study is the focus on using new technology and techniques to build much smaller plants than the kind normally considered. The fact that investments can be several billion dollars to make gas-to-liquid facilities has caused planners to consider large facilities that would give enough return on such a big investment. But, Sethi said, Wyoming doesnt have enough natural gas for such a plant. We suspected that often people were thinking we have a bigger resource than we do, he said. The amount of gas needed for even a small plant is quite large. There is not enough gas in Wyoming to justify spending $26 billion for a facility. The largest such facility in the world is the Shell Pearl GTL (gasto-liquid) plant in Qatar. Shell invested $20 billion in partnership with the Middle East nation to build the plant. But it has access to huge undersea resources of natural gas close to the shore of Qatar. The WRI report acknowledged that Wyoming wasnt going to have a Qatar-sized facility. But Sethi said instead of trying to match the 140,000 barrels of gasoline a day produced in Qatar, what you do is build smaller modular plants at the scale of 500 to 1,000 barrels a day. If COURTESY OF SHELL theres not the money or resource The Shell Pearl GTL plant in Qatar, the largest natural gas to liquids to support a large plant, you have conversion plant in the world. to think small, he said. The report pointed out crethat wouldnt require a pipeline, regulatory trends, according to ative ways of thinking small, such but could be shipped to market WRI materials. as using control systems to manin a tanker on already existing The answer came back with age smaller modular plants from roads. good news sort of. a remote location. The report The institute was charged WRI advised Wyoming to found that a central facility can with studying whether a comthink small in a big way. service modular synthesis reacmercial scale facility would be Researchers found that it is tors and gas clean-up modules. economically viable in Wyoming technologically, logistically eco- These and other similar congiven projected energy prices and nomically and legally feasible to cepts and strategies make dis26 | Wyoming Energy Journal

tributed GTL conversion possible in remote locations, according to the report. Rob Hurless, deputy director of the School of Energy Resources at UW and an energy strategist for Gov. Matt Mead, praised the effort to nd a way to add value to Wyomings natural gas resource. Theres always been a level of interest about how do we add value, he said. He added that the next step is to see if any companies out there are interested in pursuing in this kind of scale, and I think the answer is probably yes. Sethi echoed that optimism. Several entities are circling, looking for pieces of these technologies to implement something like that, he said.

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December 2013 / January 2014





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