|$1 Million Grant to Geo Researchers
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|If it were easy to find oil, we'd all be rich, notes Research Professor Roger Turpening.|
Figuring out what's under the earth and getting it out has always been a tricky business. Even now, with the latest seismic bells, whistles and software, dry holes are lots more common than gushers.
Much exploration and extraction is of the trial-and-error variety. Even when it seems like a technique is effective, it can be difficult to determine why it works or even if it will succeed again.
However, Michigan Tech researchers Turpening and Professor Wayne Pennington of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, are working at a very special site in lower Michigan that is tailor-made to study the seismic techniques used in oil exploration.
Two 6,500-foot boreholes are set up south of Traverse City on opposite sides of an existing well owned by Shell Oil Company. In one hole, scientists can operate the various seismic tools used in oil exploration. In the other, they have receivers to measure the vibrations after they travel through the formations between the holes. The site has a special advantage: because it spans a producing oil reservoir, the researchers can also study how (or if) different techniques affect oil production.
The test site was previously operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is now handing its operations over to Michigan Tech. The MTU scientists have just concluded one project there with WesternGeco, an oilfield services company, and will soon begin another.
Funded by $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and another $250,000 from private industry, the researchers will look into a process known as sonic stimulation, or sonification. "We'll be trying to find out how it works," Pennington said.
Back in the 1950s, water well drillers noticed that vibrations from passing trains seemed to make water rise in their wells. Thirty years later, Russians placed seismic vibrators above their oil fields to try to yield more oil, with mixed results.
When the field work for the DOE-sponsored project starts next summer, the researchers will measure the factors associated with the different tools used in sonification. Then, they'll invite industry to test their own equipment in what is essentially a laboratory in the field.
"We'll have so much control, we'll learn a lot about it," Pennington said. "This should give us a really good idea of how sonification works."
Ultimately, they hope to develop a set of standards for measuring and evaluating sonification technologies, so they can be more effective and predictable.
Turpening, who came to Michigan Tech from MIT to continue the test site experiments, is optimistic, in part because its geology has been so thoroughly studied during previous projects.
"We've been shooting an experiment almost every year here for the last 20 years," he said. "We could be wrong, but after you've shot something every which way to Sunday, it's hard to be wrong."