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Exterior shot of oil and gas facility.

The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) is leading a research team working to develop a new field laboratory in the hydrocarbon-producing geological formation known as the Eagle Ford Shale. The team, along with WildHorse Resource Development Corporation (WRD), which has been awarded an $8 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) for research and development of unconventional oil and natural gas recovery, will test next-generation monitoring solutions for hydraulic fracturing and enhanced oil recovery.

Dr. Dan Hill, director of TEES’ Crisman Institute for Petroleum Research, Noble Chair holder and professor in the Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University, is the principal investigator for the project. He will be working with co-principal investigators Dr. Jens Birkholzer, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Dr. Mark Zoback, Stanford University; Dr. Matthew Averill, WRD; and their research teams.

"We are extremely excited to have the Department of Energy’s support for this research collaboration among two major U.S. universities, a DOE national laboratory and multiple industry partners. By applying the most advanced monitoring technology ever implemented in the field, we will learn more than ever before about the hydraulic fracture systems created and the subsequent reservoir flow patterns in hydraulically fractured unconventional reservoirs. The Eagle Ford Shale Laboratory will undoubtedly influence future drilling and well completion practices in shale reservoirs," said Hill.

The research team will be creating the Eagle Ford Shale Laboratory in Central Texas working with WRD, which will contribute three wells for testing (one existing well for re-fracturing and two new stimulation wells). WRD will invest the funds to drill and complete these research wells over a period of several years.

Hill and his team will develop methods to improve the effectiveness of shale oil production. According to the DOE, the hydraulic fracturing methods in use a few years ago have left large portions of the reservoirs unstimulated, and in many thick shale reservoirs, there remain large untouched reserves lying above or below the stimulated region.

The team’s research has the potential to enable operators of thousands of existing fractured horizontal wells to better select re-fracturing candidates and design re-fracture treatments that could increase oil production from previously accessed reservoirs. The advanced monitoring technology to be applied to the two new wells will help to optimize geosteering and hydraulic fracture technologies. A gas injection enhanced oil recovery pilot test in the re-fractured well will be the final phase of the project.

For the first time, researchers investigating unconventional reservoirs will conduct active seismic monitoring using fiber optics in observation wells that will provide real-time monitoring of fracture propagation and stimulated volume for both new stimulation and re-fracturing of legacy wells. The team will also be able to conduct time-lapse seismic monitoring of reservoir changes during initial production and enhanced oil recovery from a re-fractured well.

"By focusing on increased recovery from previously fractured wells that were left behind because of low production, this project will foster continued growth in U.S. oil production, but with a much lower environmental footprint," said Birkholzer. Hill added, "We would like to recognize Jay Graham, chairman and CEO, and Anthony Bahr, president of WildHorse Resource Development, for having the vision to contribute the wells for this study."