Tech Secures Grant To Improve 'Hydrojetting' In Oil Fields

SOCORRO, N.M. July 14, 2010 – New Mexico Tech scientists are teaming with a Roswell oil company and a Texas specialty firm to provide new data about specialized technology designed to recover petroleum from mature reservoirs, thanks to a $656,537 federal grant.

Dr. Liangxiong Li of the Petroleum Recovery Research Center at Tech is teaming with Harvard Petroleum Company, LLC of Roswell and Well Enhancement Services of The Woodlands, Texas, to oversee the two-year test.

   Dr. Liangxiong Li

Senior researcher at the Petroleum Recovery Research Center

 Dr. Liangxiong Li earned his doctorate at New Mexico Tech in 2005. By the time he graduated, he had already published 14 papers in scholarly journal.

In 2005, Dr. Li won the Langmuir Award, given to the Tech graduate student who published the most influential paper.


The project, “Field Testing and Diagnostics of Radial-Jet Well-Stimulation for Enhanced Oil Recovery from Marginal Reserves,” will test methods of hydra-jetting technology for production enhancement. The New Mexico Tech grant is one of six proposals funded this year under the Small Producer Program of the federally-funded Research Partnership to Secure Energy For America, or RPSEA.

Dr. Li said the research portion of the project will employ one graduate student and two undergraduate students. This project is Tech’s second RPSEA grant. Li supports five student researchers in the other project.

“The beauty of this technology is that we can easily increase the communication between oil-enriched pockets and the wellbore by creating lateral holes through existing wells,” Dr. Li said. “We can drill small lateral holes, approximately an inch in diameter, and cut out to 300 feet in length from existing production casing.”

Li’s team will examine three Harvard Petroleum reservoirs near Roswell, then devise methods for each that he expects will dramatically improve production. At each reservoir, the lateral holes will be placed in specific locations to draw the remaining oil and/or gas to the existing vertical wellbore.

Dr. Li and his team will design a sensor network – using one or more different styles of instrument – to identify the vertical and spatial placement of the laterals. Li said they could use hydrostatic pressure sensors, electrical sensors or optical fiber sensors – or a combination of those.

“It’s a challenge, especially for tight reservoirs,” he said. “But with this technology, we can increase productivity by as much as 10 times. This will dramatically increase production on marginally profitable wells.”

Harvard Petroleum Co. president Jeff Harvard said the project will identify and quantify the capabilities of the jet-drilled laterals. Petroleum companies have been employing radial jet technology for about 10 years, but the performance has never been studied fully.

“We know we can drill them, we just don’t know where they go,” Harvard said. “It’s been a blind approach. It’s been successful, but not knowing where these laterals go has been an impediment to the utilization and expansion of this technology.”

The main part of Tech’s contribution will be imaging the reservoir to identify specific areas where the laterals will be most effective and to map the actual path of the horizontal jetted laterals. Well Enhancement Services, or WES, specializes in enhanced oil recovery and owns a patent on radial jet technology. Harvard Petroleum, with support from WES, will oversee the field testing of the radial jet technology.

This project – as with all RPSEA grants – will benefit smaller petroleum producers around the country, Harvard said. The university and the two companies will provide matching funds, bringing the total project to $1.47 million. The results will be published and shared with all producers.

Dr. Van Romero, New Mexico Tech vice president of research, said continued research – especially with small producers – is vital to the continued petroleum activity in the United States.

“The leak in the Gulf has made it crystal clear how important domestic onshore production of oil and gas is,” Romero said. “Major oil companies have left the Continental U.S. and focused production in other countries and in deep water. The only people left with significant production in the Continental U.S. are small producers. This is the type of research that will help many, many small producers.”

Launched in 2005, the Department of Energy pledged $100 million over 10 years. This year’s awards – including 11 other grants in the Unconventional Resources Program – total $26.5 million. The funding for the Small Producers Program was $16.5 million.

“Under the 2009 Small Producer Program, these selections allow small producing companies to maximize oil and gas extraction from their existing assets,” RPSEA Vice President of Technical Programs James Pappas said. “The domestic small producers comprise a large cross-section of the oil and gas industry and collectively account for a substantial portion of untapped reserves potential. The goal is to unlock the potential for domestic hydrocarbon resources by enhancing production with existing surface footprints from mature fields, where up to two-thirds of original-oil-in-place is left behind.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech