Colorado State University has obtained a $5 million grant from BP covering five years to study mechanisms involved with technology for oil recovery.
“Understanding processes associated with extracting petroleum resources from rocks in watered-out wells is at the heart of these research efforts,” said Amber Krummel, assistant professor of chemistry and the principal investigator on the grant.
The concept of an “exhausted” well is somewhat misleading – upward of 70% of the petroleum remains in the rock formations of many “watered-out” wells. Typically, wells are abandoned after they are no longer producing oil or gas at a rate that is economically viable. Understanding the fundamental science could create a new avenue to revitalize these wells while also minimizing environmental impacts of oil recovery.
“This project is very exciting in part because we are being given the opportunity to study fundamental molecular details that may have a large societal impact. It is very basic research at the simplest chemical level,” Krummel said. “Assuming it’s successful, it will allow us to help decision-makers in oil fields engineer solutions for more oil recovery.”
Krummel is leading the project with collaborator Chuck Henry, professor of chemistry at Colorado State. The pair will use a combination of laser experiments and nanofabrication approaches to examine the processes that occur in waterflooding an oilfield.
The need to investigate waterflood chemistry at the nanoscale is driven by the fact that the rock formations involved in many of the “exhausted” wells in Colorado and the surrounding states contain shale, limestone and sandstone. The pores in these types of rock range in diameter from tens of nanometers to several micrometers. Understanding the impact of this variation on oil recovery could be very important.
In addition, this research eventually could be applied to a wide variety of uses including aquifer mediation, natural gas recovery or carbon dioxide sequestration where the gas, instead of escaping into the atmosphere, is put back into a geological formation.