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Energy Innovation = A Bigger Shale Boom

Mark Green, Energy Tomorrow

The astounding reality of the shale revolution is that we are just scratching the surface of what may be recoverable. 

Bismarck, N.D., television station KFYR has an interesting story on its website noting that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling – which spurred booming oil production from the Bakken Shale and oil and natural gas from other shale plays – have paved the way for new technologies that could expand the Bakken oil recovery rate:

“Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have opened the flood gates to extract oil from the Bakken. Yet companies are still only recovering six to eight percent of the oil in the ground. So now the goal is to become more efficient and test new technologies that would allow the other 92 percent of the oil in the Bakken to be used.”

Said another way, more than 90 percent of the Bakken’s oil remains untapped. As North Dakota blogger Rob Port notes: Wow! The KFYR report mentions two strategies that are being looked at to get that oil:

  • Walking rigs – Used on Eco-pads that have several well bores at one location and can be moved from one well head to the next in a matter of hours instead of days.
  • CO2-enhanced recovery – The process has been used at other oil plays but would be new to the Bakken and could extend the life of wells there by 20 to 30 years.

KFYR quotes John Harju of the University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center:

“If we can maintain a relatively small footprint and in essence not have to drill a bunch of new wells and utilize carbon dioxide in existing bore holes and increase our recovery percentages, I think this a great thing.”

Technologies like these remind us that at a few years ago the putting together of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling was itself new and revolutionary – unlocking oil and natural gas reserves trapped in shale. Reserves that were thought unrecoverable are now producing home-grown energy on a game-changing scale.

They also remind that energy technology doesn’t stand still. Innovation is constant. If these and/or other innovations pan out, it’s not hard to imagine an America that’s more energy secure, meeting more of its energy needs here at home.

Indeed, that’s because this would be energy in addition to the significant projections for so-called unconventional oil and natural gas in a recent IHS Global Insight study – oil output more than doubling and natural gas production nearly doubling by the end of this decade. IHS assumed the status quo in terms of production, access and regulation.

Port notes those who’ve predicted we would see America would run out of oil didn’t “account for the ingenuity and inventiveness of mankind.” He adds:

“We are constantly inventing new and better ways of doing things. That’s what fracking was for oil and gas production. A new and better way of tapping into our natural resources. For the Bakken and other shale oil/gas plays, when the resources will be recovered is a matter of market forces and the rate of technological advancements. But I think that’s definitely a ‘when’ question, not a ‘will we’ question.”

Energy Tomorrow, 1 November 2012