Research

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering (PNGE) Department serves the state and the nation's fossil fuel industry by educating well-trained engineers for its industry, specific training for its personnel, and the technology for extraction and service for its constituents.

As such, the productivity of the Department is unusually high. Moreover, the superior quality of the Department as measured by its faculty, facilities, and publications and standing, is well known on both a national and an international level.

Indicative of the quality and the reputation of our program is the wealth of the Department's publications and externally funded research projects. With its state-of-the-art laboratories and internationally respected faculty, the Department helps solve many of the state and nation's unique oil and natural gas problems. Solving these problems enhances economic development.

The WVU Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering Department is a world leader in fluid flow through porous media, reservoir characterization and stimulation by computational intelligence, natural gas storage, multi-phasic flow in pipes, drilling and production engineering, and environmental remediation.

Marcellus Shale Research

Sometimes referred to as the "Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas", the Marcellus Shale is a massive formation of black organic sedimentary rock underlying 95,000 square miles (60.8 million acres) in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York.

The Marcellus contains an estimated 487 trillion cubic feet of natural gas resources between 4,500 and 8,500 feet deep, making it the second largest single source of natural gas in the world. Responsible for 7,600 new jobs in West Virginia, and an infusion of $12 billion into the state in 2009 alone, the Marcellus has been characterized as the "gold rush" of the 21st century.

Advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies have facilitated greatly increased natural gas drilling activity in the Appalachians in recent years. Horizontal drilling allows for the launching of multiple wells from a single pad, and has enabled multiple pay zones to be reached from the same surface location. Fracturing has aided in the recovery process by using water, sand, and trace amounts of chemicals to create fractures in the formation, resulting in the expulsion of natural gas.

The key to unlocking the massive natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale is research that will allow for the recovery of gas from regions once believed to be too difficult to drill. "With innovative breakthroughs in fracturing and drilling technology, massive homegrown natural gas reserves can be brought to the surface," says Sam Ameri, Chair of the WVU Department of Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering (PNGE), a leader in shale gas research.

West Virginia University has partnered with industry leaders, world-renowned research universities, and the Department of Energy on research projects focused on gas-producing shale; and every faculty member in the department is actively involved in shale-related research.

Central to research in the department is the new, state-of-the-art Marcellus Shale Laboratory run by Dr. Khashayar Aminian and Professor Ameri. The laboratory features the latest in computer equipment designed for accurate measurements of the petrophysical properties of shale.

"Accurate measurements of porosity and permeability of Marcellus Shale from fresh core samples...can provide a basis for us to better understand the characteristics of shale." Aminian says. "This information is also needed for evaluating the potential for CO2 sequestration on Marcellus shale." Aminian also notes that capillary pressure measurements on core samples from shale along with geochemical analyses of water samples may provide valuable information to identify the potential source of dissolved solids in water.

Determining the earning potential of shale reservoirs falls under the leadership of Professor Shahab Mohaghegh. His research has shown that modeling of production from shale gas becomes even more complicated when hydraulic fracturing is employed. A technique developed by Dr. Mohaghegh called Top-Down Modeling uses artificial intelligence and data mining to build data-driven predictive models capable of accurately matching the production history of wells within the Marcellus Shale.

"Implementation of conventional numerical and analytical modeling on shale gas production in the past decade...has resulted in one major conclusion: the art and science originally developed for carbonate and coal bed methane reservoirs...cannot adequately model fluid flow in shale,"Mohaghegh believes. "This success [of the Top-Down Modeling program] paves the way to build predictive models for production from shale formations, including the role of hydraulic fracturing in the operation. By successfully modeling this complex phenomenon, we will be able to increase production from the Marcellus Shale while minimizing the environmental footprint of our operations."

Associate Professor Ilkin Bilgesu's work focuses on the interaction between shale formations and different drilling fluids and ways to improve long-term borehole stability. Dr. Bilegsu understands that the majority of drilling-related failures are the result of unstable boreholes in clay-rich shale. As a result, he is making efforts through research to determine ways to stabilize wells starting with the fluids used for drilling. "Experiments provide more insight to the formations in terms of their production potential," Dr. Bilgesu notes, "They can provide a window to these valuable resources and can help daily operations run without problems. Our goal is to reduce, and if possible, eliminate, hole stability issues that can cause wellbore collapse, hole enlargement or reduction, stuck pipe, and even complete loss of the wellbore." The experiments run in Dr. Bilgesu's mud laboratory will allow for the collection of data and the development of insight into the problems will shale drilling and potentially provide solutions to these problems.

Drilling horizontal wells and hydraulic fracture stimulation can change and redistribute the initial in-situ stress field within the shale gas/oil reservoir and surrounding areas. The change in in-situ stress can lead to reactivation of existing faults and fractures. Different potential hazards and risks are related to this reactivation including hydraulic failure of cap rocks, i.e. reservoir fluid leakage to surroundings, failure of fracture treatment, wellbore instability in nearby wells and in severe cases surface subsidence and seismicity events. The change in in-situ stress field of the reservoir could be due to creating the fractures and fracture propagation inside the reservoir and also poroelastic effects due to fluid injection or production during hydraulic fracturing or reservoir production. Dr. Ebrahim Fathi's recent research is focused on Prediction of Fault Reactivation in Hydraulic Fracturing of Horizontal Wells in Shale Gas Reservoirs. Dr. Fathi is also heavily involved in developing theoretical models and experimental procedures to characterize Shale gas and Coalbed methane reservoirs, fluid dynamics in naturally occurring nano-porous materials using new Lattice Boltzmann simulation models, and Up-scaling of the fluid flow, transport and reaction processes in heterogeneous and anisotropic porous media.

The Marcellus Shale is potentially the largest energy-related discovery of our lifetimes. Whether through the determination of shale petrophysical properties, the investigation of wellbore stability, or the calculation of a reservoir's economic potential, the researchers at the Department of Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering at West Virginia University are leading the way in shale research that will allow the United States to capitalize on the vast potential of this exceptional resource.

Research Projects

The Department's research efforts focus on those technologies that will improve the recovery efficiency of both oil and natural gas from difficult-to-produce reservoirs in West Virginia and the world. Because natural gas has the potential to make a significantly larger contribution to both our nation's energy supply and its environmental goals, a major research emphasis will be placed on natural gas production and transportation, as well as environmental protection and remediation. The Department focuses its work on producing more fuel from fewer wells, with fewer spills from wells and pipelines.

Moreover, the Department fosters continued progress in science and technology development for finding and extracting recoverable oil and natural gas resources. These reservoirs are located in deeper and more remote locations, in more challenging geological formations, in difficult terrain, in smaller pockets, under sensitive wetland and tundra, and far out at sea.

Drilling Engineering Research Projects

Formation Evaluation Research Projects

Natural Gas Engineering Research Projects

Production Engineering Research Project

Reservoir Engineering Research Projects

Laboratories

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering Department (PNGE), with its state-of-the-art laboratories, is a world leader in fluid flow through porous media, reservoir characterization and stimulation by computational intelligence, natural gas storage, multi-phasic flow in pipes, drilling and production engineering, and environmental remediation.

Core Analysis Laboratory

The purpose of this laboratory is to acquaint the students with the standard laboratory methods and techniques for measuring rock properties. Major pieces of equipment available in this facility include the core and brine resistivity measurement units, helium porosimeter, mercury porosimeter, capillary pressure unit, permeability measuring apparatus, acid flow test unit, relative permeability apparatus, desaturation capillary pressure unit, centrifuge extractor, drying oven, retorts, and core cutting and preparation units. With the exception of the mercury porosimeter and capillary pressure apparatus, all equipment are housed in one room.

Drilling Fluids Laboratory

This laboratory is equipped with routine drilling fluid analysis instruments. Students are taught standard techniques for preparing and measuring drilling fluids properties. Equipment available include blenders, mud balances, marsh balances, rheometers, pH meters, resistivity meters, and the filter press unit. An IBM- PC unit installed in this laboratory provides information on the properties of additives and mud calculations. Moreover, the Digitran RS 3000 Rig Floor Simulator permits the instructor to demonstrate normal and abnormal drilling conditions and the proper actions necessary to control kick conditions.

Gas Measurement Laboratory

This laboratory gives the students hands-on experience in metering natural gas and testing procedures for determining accuracy of various meters. A number of natural gas meters including diaphragm, rotary, turbine, and orifice meters are used in this laboratory. Each meter is installed in an appropriate meter run equipped with pressure and flow regulator as well as temperature and pressure recorder. In addition, several provers including Bell, Sonic Nozzle, Low Pressure, and Transfer Provers are used for proving various meters. For utilization and safety, the laboratory and its equipment is excellent.

Rig Floor Simulator

This unit provides the department with the capability to practice everyday oil and gas drilling operations using state-of-the-art equipment. All controls existing in a modern drilling unit are displayed at full scale giving students the feeling of an actual drilling rig. Our simulator also permits students to practice hazardous and life threatening operations without endangering either their lives or the environment. Such training is an important, integral part of a drilling operation.