Petroleum Students Invited To Research Competition

SOCORRO, N.M. February 27, 2013– Two petroleum engineering master’s students presented their research posters in a national research contest next week in Oklahoma City.

Chris Silva and Olufolahanmi “Fola” Olusola are conducting research with their advisor Dr. Tan Nguyen that seeks to provide more efficient means of recovering petroleum. They were selected to present their work at the National Technical Conference of the American Association of Drilling Engineers on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 26 and 27.

“I won’t be nervous until 30 minutes before,” Silva said before leaving for the conference. “I’m nervous about the questions, especially if the industry experts stump you.”

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 Chris Silva and Olufolahanmi “Fola” Olusola. The two graduate students were invited to present research at the AADE Conference this week.


They have both presented their research to their advisory committee, but Olusola said presenting at a conference is way different.

“It’s quite exciting,” Olusola said.

Both graduate students are working on projects that involve the fluids injected into wells formations. Olusola is developing a method of predicting how the frictional pressure gradients of water-based drilling fluids (bentonite) change over time, due to the time-dependent or thixotropic nature of the fluid. Silva is testing and developing new mixtures of fluids to maximize production downwell.

“These two projects are very practical,” said Dr. Nguyen. “We’re doing some projects that companies are looking for results. That’s the main reason these two were chosen to present at the conference.”

Silva has been developing a new mixture of mud to be injected into wells that would minimize “sag” and allow a more efficient flow of crude oil to the wellhead. “Barite sag” causes changes in the circulating density which may lead to wellbore complications and is a common problem within drilling operations.

The typical mud mixture currently in use is composed of an oil-based barite. Silva has tested a variety of compounds that include varying types and ratios of calcium-carbonate and barite.

“With this research, you can optimize your mud system and tailor your mud system to what you’re doing,” he said. “You have to know your parameters, know your field and what kind of range of pressures you have to work with.”

Typically, barite particles measure 25 microns on average, with a maximum of 75 microns. Silva has conducted laboratory tests using calcium-carbonate that measures from 2 to 40 microns. By testing various mixtures of the two weighting substances, he is working toward finding an optimal mud that maintains the appropriate chemistry downwell and prevents the loss of circulation during drilling.

“Industry is waiting on results to see what they can do,” Dr. Tan Nguyen said. “Several companies are interested in this research, including Halliburton and Chevron.”

Chevron initiated work in this area in 2007, when Nguyen was a doctoral student at the University of Tulsa. Now, the main sponsors are Det Norske (of Norway) and Kuwait Oil Co. Nguyen is receiving technical and material support from MiSwaco and ConocoPhillips.

“They’ve been using calcium carbonate, but they don’t know the optimal ratio,” Nguyen said. “Chris’s research will provide some answers.”

Silva took a non-traditional route to New Mexico Tech. A native of Las Vegas, Nev., he dropped out of high school and started working in the oil fields in the Four Corners region near Farmington. He finished his high school degree when he was 20, then earned associate’s degrees in physics and engineering at San Juan Community College. He then earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at New Mexico State University before starting his master’s program at Tech.

In addition to his previous experience in the oil fields, he has completed a co-op program with ConocoPhillips.

Olusola earned his bachelor’s in electrical engineering in his native Nigeria at the University of Lagos. He came to Tech after looking for a quality petroleum engineering program and on the recommendation of friends in Nigeria who are familiar with Tech.

His research also relates to the hydraulics of drilling fluids. He is studying how drilling fluids change over time and how that affects the pressure trends within the wellbore.

“The primary aim of this research is to help prevent or minimize incidences of what we call ‘induced fractures,’ ” he said. “Most drilling fluids, particularly those containing bentonite, tend to gel up when they are allowed to rest, which may happen during breaks in the drilling process.

When drilling resumes after a stoppage, the fluid begins re-circulating and extra energy or pressure is required to pump the fluid through the wellbore due to the build-up of the gel structure, Olusola said. Fluid pressure is exerted on the formation and often causes fractures, which could damage the formation, cause a loss in circulation, and sometimes even cause blow outs.

“We don’t want that in the industry,” Olusola said. “Being able to properly predict the pressure peaks and trend of the frictional pressure gradients that occur due to the gelling properties of the drilling fluid will also help drillers develop faster and more efficient pump start-up procedures.”

“When you shut down a well and then resume operations, you normally start pumping slowly to avoid damage to the formation,” Nguyen said. “The question is, ‘How slow should we go?’ We aren’t able to answer that question. Fola should be able to predict the best speed.”

He started with theory and laboratory experiments, then moved to computer simulator modeling and has built a testing facility where experiments are run on various concentrations of the drilling fluids to validate the results obtained from the simulator.

Nguyen said Olusola’s biggest challenge has been re-creating the downhole environment in a laboratory environment – mimicking the temperatures, the fluid composition and pressures..

Both Silva and Olusola expect to graduate in May 2013. Silva has a job with ConocoPhillips in Houston, which will include plenty of training and travel around the world. Olusola is hoping to land a job in the Texas oil industry as well.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech