Fracking 2.0
The Shale Boom Gets a Data Boost

The shale boom has remade America’s energy fortunes overnight, but even after its recent resurgence (following a slight price-induced dip) the extraordinary phenomenon has still not come close to reaching its full potential. Shale drillers are getting better at their craft, and are innovating their way to higher outputs, lower decline rates, and (crucially) lower costs, but they’re still only getting a fraction of the oil and gas trapped in shale rock formations. But new research shows that the utilization of more accurate computer modeling could allow fracking firms to extract more hydrocarbons from the dense rock. Science Daily reports:

Most of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves may be locked up inside the tiny pores comprising shale rock…Hydraulic fracturing can create cracks that connect those pores, but without a solid understanding of the pore distribution and structure of the shale, oil and gas companies are working blind. […]

To better understand the physics of how fluids like water, oil and gas flow through such tiny pores, researchers have increasingly turned to computer simulations…[Yidong Xia, a computational scientist at Idaho National Laboratory,] and his colleagues used what’s called a coarse-grain approach. They modeled the fluid as a collection of particles in which each particle represents a cluster of a few molecules. This dramatically cuts down on how much computational muscle is needed.

What also sets these new results apart is the incorporation of high-resolution imagery of shale samples…”The combination [of microscopy and simulations] is what really produces meaningful results,” Xia said.

The shale boom came about because of the wedding of two distinct technologies: horizontal well drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The next phase of this energy revolution looks likely to be powered by the increased inclusion of a third technology—namely computer modeling.

These models give companies a better idea of how to drill smarter, and they’re already a big part of why the U.S. shale industry was able to weather the crude price collapse and still come out the other side looking relatively healthy. As these models and the instruments used to gather data for them continue to improve, we can expect to see similar growth in production from shale wells.

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