September 2018

What’s new in production

Small is big
Don Francis / Contributing Editor

Richard Feynman could never be accused of thinking small. True, most of his head-scratching regarded things at the subatomic scale, but the scope of his work, and its impact, were big enough to earn him a Nobel Prize in physics, in 1965. He also was a great communicator of physics to a popular audience. Helping to bridge that gap were the legendary Feynman Diagrams. These pictorial representations allowed mere mortals to understand the mathematical expressions describing the behavior of subatomic particles.

Before this spirals off into a hagiography of Feynman (which would be a pleasure to do) let’s get back on course by noting that “NANO” magazine—you knew there would be one—gives Feynman credit for inspiring the field of nanotechnology. And that brings us to a recent development of this quickly developing technology, in our neighborhood.

According to its developer, Nissan Chemical America Corporation, nanoActiv [sic] hydrocarbon recovery technology “…uses nano-sized particles in a colloidal dispersion. The well intervention additive package and method uses a Brownian-motion, diffusion-driven mechanism, known as disjoining pressure, to produce long efficacy in the recovery of hydrocarbons in conventional and unconventional reservoirs.”

Less than 15% of the available fracture network receives proppant. As they identify the problem, “Conventional proppants are simply too big to reach deep into the fracture network.” Supporting this thesis, Craig Cipolla of Hess Corporation, said at an SPE presentation, “From analyzing production and treatment data in over 1,000 fracture treatments in the Marcellus (as well as other unconventional reservoirs), less than 15% of the available fracture network (natural fractures) received any proppant!”

Because the nanoscale particles are far smaller than a grain of sand—a billionth of a meter compared to the 1-mm size of a typical grain of sand—it penetrates the natural fracture network to a far greater extent.

A gram of the additive contains enough 10 nm particles to completely cover nearly 3,000 ft2. Less than 8 oz, or about one cup of it, will cover an area equivalent to almost 60,000 ft2, or just over the size of a football field. One gallon would contain enough particles to cover more than 1 million ft2.

Great, but what does it do after it gets there? The company says, “the particles behave as a wedge film driven by Brownian motion and diffusion defined as disjoining pressure—greatly facilitating and accelerating the mobility of gas, oil and water, or mixtures thereof within porous media, and/or natural or induced fracture networks.”

As proof, the company cites April 2017 data from two Wolfberry-Upton County, Texas, wells after being treated with the additive vs average production from untreated, conventionally fractured offset wells. One of them, Well A, had an average 30-day IP rate of 209 boed.

After treatment, Well A yielded an 88% oil cut vs 56% from offset wells. Well A did not require artificial lift for seven months, significantly reducing lease operating costs, whereas offset wells had to be placed on artificial lift shortly after completion. After 481 days on production, the treated well outperformed the offsets’ cumulative production by 54%. Decline in oil production was only 39% after 12 months.

Vegas should start taking bets on which technology gets the most public mentions in the next 12 months: nano or digital. Digital seemingly has higher visibility lately, but nano is staking a claim. And, “nano,” in this industry, is taking many forms, among them: nanosensor, nanofluid, nanocomposite nanocoating, nanomembrane and nanocatalyst. It must be true; the industry is shrinking.

In their paper, “Applications of nanotechnology in oil and gas industry: Progress and perspective,” (Peng, et. al., 2017), the authors observe that oil companies are devoting increasing resources to nanotechnology research and development, both in‐house R&D facilities and in partnership with universities. As far back as 2008, the Advanced Energy Consortium (AEC) was jointly launched by Schlumberger, Total, Shell, BP, etc., with the goal of collaborating with research institutes to develop and apply nanotechnology in the oil and gas industry. ExxonMobil, Chevron and Halliburton are also active in nanotechnology exploration at the laboratory level and in oilfield application tests.

Challenges remain. Fakoya and Shah, of the Well Construction Technology Center, report that one challenge has to do with the stability of nanoparticles in a liquid medium, which could be a challenge for nanotechnology applications in drilling and hydraulic fracturing fluids. Another challenge that specifically impacts EOR has to do with the transportability of nanoparticles in reservoir rocks.

The core advantage of nanoparticles is surface area to volume ratio. Because atoms on the surface of a material are often more reactive than those in the center, a larger surface area means a more reactive material.

But, for Health, Safety and Environment (HSE), this is a problem. The UK NanoSafety Partnership Group notes that exposure to some particulate nanomaterials can occur by ingestion, skin penetration or inhalation, with adverse effects depending on the size, dose and toxicity of the nanoparticle. Toxicity investigations indicate that the effects appear to be related to the total surface area of the particles. The exposure potential will be directly related to the structure and form of the nanomaterial.

As with most things technical, risks properly managed can enable a large upside. There’s no doubt this industry is up to the challenges. wo-box_blue.gif

About the Authors
Don Francis
Contributing Editor
Don Francis DON@TECHNICOMM.COM / For more than 30 years, Don Francis has observed the global oil and gas industry as a writer, editor and consultant to companies marketing upstream technologies.
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