Scientists from the Energy Geosciences Division at Berkeley Lab are part of a research team led by Texas A&M University that is working to develop a new field laboratory in the hydrocarbon-producing geological formation known as Eagle Ford Shale. The team, 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.

The researchers will be creating the Eagle Ford Shale Laboratory in Central Texas, working with operator WildHorse Resource Development Corporation, which will provide three wells for testing (one existing well for re-fracturing and two new stimulation wells). WildHorse will invest about $15 million to drill and complete these research wells.

Principal investigator Dan Hill, Noble Chair holder and professor in the Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University, is leading the effort to develop methods that improve the effectiveness of shale oil production. According to the DOE, the hydraulic fracturing methods used a few years ago have left large portions of the reservoirs in contact with wells unstimulated, and in many thick shale reservoirs, there are also large untouched reserves lying above or below the stimulated region.

“By focusing on increased recovery from previously fractured wells that were left behind because of low production, this project will allow oil production at a much lower environmental footprint,” says Jens Birkholzer, director of the Energy Geosciences Division at Berkeley Lab.

As director of the Energy Geosciences Division at Berkeley Lab, Jens Birkholzer will be working with co-principal investigators Mark Zoback of Stanford University and Matt Averill of WildHorse Resource Development Corporation.

Birkholzer believes the project has great potential for the future of enhanced oil recovery. “By focusing on increased recovery from previously fractured wells that were left behind because of low production, this project will allow oil production at a much lower environmental footprint,” he says.

This project marks the first time that 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’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. Once the two new wells are stimulated, researchers plan to apply advanced monitoring technologies designed to enable the optimization of 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.

This project marks the first time that 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.