Diagnostics & Imaging

Published October 15th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

The Advanced Diagnostics and Imaging Systems Program develops techniques to "see" oil, gas, and associated rocks from the earth’s surface and nearby wellbores.  


Visualizing the barriers and pathways for underground fluid flow allows expensive wells and enhanced production projects to be more efficiently positioned, thereby reducing risk, cutting costs, and increasing the ultimate recovery. 


The success rate for U.S. exploratory wells has declined 10 percent since 1994, and the cost of finding oil has increased over 50 percent since 1995, reflecting the fact that new oil and gas targets are deeper, smaller, and more structurally complex - in other words, harder to image and produce. 


Furthermore, state-of-the-art geophysical technologies still cannot image most reservoir features; surface seismic can only differentiate rock layers over 30 feet thick. Smaller features, such as thin reservoirs and fractures, are "invisible."  


An additional problem is the limited capability of geophysical techniques to distinguish between water and oil. With advanced diagnostics and imaging technology, the costs and risks of exploring and developing these reserves can be significantly reduced. 


For example, 3D seismic imaging, today’s leading imaging technology, has been a major contributor to Gulf of Mexico revitalization. Exploration well success rates have more than doubled from 19 percent to 40 percent (1985 to 1994), and production has increased by 37 percent (1990 to 1995). 


In alliance with the oil and gas industry, the Department of Energy is supporting RD&D of advanced diagnostics and imaging techniques, combining the best public and private capabilities to accelerate the creation and implementation of promising, innovative approaches. 


The Department is focusing on the special needs of independent operators, emphasizing diagnostic and imaging technologies for field development, modeling, and risk analysis tools for personal computers and simplified access to computer- and Internet-based reservoir and basin data. 


DOE is also assessing the potential of, and developing imaging techniques and predictive models for, currently high-risk or uncommercial reservoirs. These studies are not being pursued by industry because of the difficult economic environment associated with continuing low oil and gas prices. 


The Advanced Diagnostics and Imaging Systems Program expects, by 2010, to contribute over 200 million barrels per year of additional oil production, and over 0.5 Tcf per year of additional gas production. By 2010, cumulative additions of 1.1 billion barrels (Bbls) in oil reserves and 7.5 Tcf of gas reserves will add $10 billion to public sector revenue. 


DOE’s emphasis on diagnostic and imaging technology RD&D has greatly increased over the past 10 years, in parallel with industry interest in applying new technologies. This growing interest is driven by: 

the need to reduce risk and uncertainty in a low product price environment;  

the need for improved resolution to define smaller, more compartmentalized, and deeper reservoirs; and  

the understanding that reservoir heterogeneity impacts all recovery processes, a concept developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s during enhanced oil recovery projects.  


Diagnostics and imaging are important components of the oil and gas industry. As one indication of the technology’s significance, in 1989, only five percent of wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico were based on 3D seismic imaging, while in 1996, nearly 80 percent of wells drilled were based on 3D seismic.  


Advanced reservoir imaging and drilling technologies already have helped the oil and gas industry increase the efficiency of exploration and production. 


Oil production in the Gulf of Mexico increased by 270,000 barrels per day between 1990 and 1995.  


Industry and the Department of the Interior estimate that new discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico may yield as much as 18 billion barrels of oil – more oil than Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Technological innovations in subsalt imaging, reservoir characterization, and drilling technologies have enhanced the ability to discover such potential reserves. 


In the future, newly developed imaging and modeling technologies can enable production from tight, inaccessible, and fractured reservoirs, which contain major portions of our Nation’s future oil and gas resources. 


Such reservoirs include fractured shale, fractured tight gas reservoirs in the Rocky Mountain region, deeper parts of producing basins, and reservoirs in deep water or below salt in the Gulf of Mexico.  


Resource characterization studies will define the potential, and research will develop the technologies to produce novel, currently nonproducing gas resources, such as methane hydrates and ultradeep gas. 


Meeting Industry Needs: 

The Advanced Diagnostics and Imaging Systems Program focuses RD&D on areas identified by industry as having significant potential benefits. Recent industry recommendations concerning DOE-funded RD&D in diagnostics and imaging technologies are summarized below. 


In its Fiscal Year 1998 funding recommendation to DOE, the Gas Industry RD&D Initiative Group identified two research and development needs: (1) improved diagnostics for imaging and predicting natural gas fractures, and (2) natural gas resource and reserve assessments.  


This group – a coalition of 37 natural gas companies and six RD&D and trade organizations – specifically emphasized the need for basic geological studies, reservoir modeling, and infield evaluation techniques for bypassed reservoir compartments. 


In The Dynamics of Sedimentary Basins (1996), the National Research Council (NRC) recommended two research areas and a collaborative approach that are integral to the Advanced Diagnostics and Imaging Systems Program: 

Development of basin models to enhance understanding of diverse processes, such as fluid flow along fractures;  

Continuation of efforts to preserve, archive, and disseminate data on sedimentary basins; and  

More collaboration among industry, academia, and government researchers, linking diverse research disciplines.  


In another study, Rock Fractures and Fluid Flow (1996), NRC recommended additional research to increase the understanding of fractured rocks, specifically the origin and development of fracture systems and the interrelationships of stress, fluid flow, chemical processes, and temperature.  


NRC also recommended development of improved fracture detection methods and numerical flow models. 


The National Petroleum Council (NPC) has also identified advanced diagnostics and imaging as a high priority. In its 1995 study, Research, Development and Demonstration Needs of the Oil and Gas Industry, NPC identified high-resolution seismic depth imaging, through-casing logging, and simulation techniques as key technology needs. 


Additional short-term RD&D technology needs were also cited, including advanced seismic acquisition, computer-based 3D geologic modeling, development-scale seismic applications, and permeability logging. 


The NPC plans in 1999 to update its analysis of the natural gas industry, including constraints and opportunities for natural gas supply growth. Findings of this industry study will be incorporated into DOE program plans in coming years. 


The President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, in its 1997 study, recommended that the Department increase the RD&D investment for gas production and processing technologies. With respect to advanced diagnostics and imaging, the Committee emphasized the following: 

As demand increases (perhaps in the range of 30 to 40 Tcf), the cost of domestic production from frontier and marginal resources will rise significantly, unless better technologies are developed and applied.  


The DOE Office of Fossil Energy should continue supporting technology transfer and cost-effective demonstrations to help maintain production from mature and marginal regions of domestic production.  


The Office of Fossil Energy should develop a science-based program with industry, United States Geological Survey (USGS), Minerals Management Service (MMS), Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of the Navy to understand the potential of methane hydrates worldwide.  


The Office of Fossil Energy, with the American Geological Institute, the geosciences societies, and USGS, should ensure adequate archiving of drilling records and core samples that are at risk of being discarded or destroyed.  


Potential Benefits: 

By playing an active part in technology development and use, data preservation and use, and the development of more accurate resource and reserve quantification tools, DOE expects that RD&D will achieve the following by 2010: 

A reduction in the proportion of dry holes drilled, through an increase in the resolution of reservoir imaging technology and improvements in the capability to locate hydrocarbons;  


An increase in production from fractured reservoirs through improved fracture imaging and prediction and fluid flow modeling, allowing wellbores to intersect and drain multiple fractures (necessary for ensuring economic production rates);  


An increase in U.S. exploration, especially in underexplored basins and Native American lands, through greater industry access to and use of geologic and geophysical basin-scale data; and  

An increase in the cost-effectiveness of field development, infill drilling, and extraction processes by providing industry with modeling and simulation tools for improved process design and optimization.  

Source: United States Energy Information Administration.  

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