Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

MIT studies undersea channels for oil recovery

23.05.2006


Work in an MIT lab may help energy companies withdraw millions of additional barrels of oil from beneath the sea floor.

Typically, companies recover only 30 percent to 40 percent of the oil in a given reservoir. Since a single reservoir may contain a billion barrels total, increasing that "recovery efficiency" by even a single percentage point would mean a lot of additional oil.

Toward that end, Assistant Professor David Mohrig of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences and Carlos Pirmez, a research geologist from Shell International Exploration and Production Inc., have been examining one type of geological formation of interest to industry -- channels filled with highly permeable and porous sedimentary deposits that extend deep below the sea floor.

These structures form when sediment-laden currents flow off the continental shelf and into channels on the deep-ocean floor, dropping sand, silt and clay as they go. Over many thousands to millions of years, the channels can become filled with porous sandstone covered by impermeable mud -- a perfect trap for oil and gas that seep up from below.

Over the past 20 years, energy companies have withdrawn significant amounts of oil from such buried channels. But they could extract even more if they understood the channels’ internal structure.

"If we could understand how they develop, then we would also understand a great deal about what they’re composed of -- the distribution of clay, silt, sand and even gravel that they’re built out of," Mohrig said. With a better understanding of porosity and permeability within a channel, companies could more accurately determine how much oil is present, where it is located and how quickly it can be withdrawn.

Researchers have been re-creating the formation of submarine channels in Mohrig’s Morphodynamics Laboratory using a 5-meter-square sand table.

The experiments have yielded results that the collaborators call "counterintuitive." On a map, the sinuous submarine channels look like meandering surface rivers. However, they exhibit behaviors that are markedly different and -- to us surface-dwellers -- totally unexpected.

The behaviors stem from differences in density. Water in a river is about a thousand times denser than the fluid it flows through -- air. As a result, a flow tends to remain confined to its riverbed, escaping over the banks only rarely. In contrast, the current running through a submarine channel may be only 10 percent denser than the seawater around it. Thus, the current can spill out of its channel more easily and frequently than a river might.

That difference explains several unexpected findings. For example, at times the bottom of the current sloshes almost all the way up the edge of the channel and then back down again. And at bends, the current may go straight, pouring up and over the bank and dropping its sediment outside the channel -- an outcome with important implications for energy companies as they plan to drill.

Because of their close and continuing involvement in the scientific investigation, the Shell researchers are prepared to put the research findings to practical use. "The experiments that David is doing have never really been done before, so we’re learning new things about how channels are put together," Pirmez said. "We’re getting new ideas, new concepts that may change the way we think about the subsurface."

The result should be improved predictions, reduced uncertainty and more efficient recovery from these oil-rich submarine formations.

This research was supported by Shell International Exploration and Production Inc. through the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology
22.06.2017 | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

nachricht How reliable are shells as climate archives?
21.06.2017 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>