The Bureau of Economic Geology The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences
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June 2014

Scott Hamlin and Robert BaumgartnerThe Bureau's Scott Hamlin and Robert Baumgartner were recently named as recipients of the 2014 Charles J. Mankin Memorial Award by the Association of American State Geologists (AASG). The award recognizes the outstanding state geological survey publication with an emphasis on surface or subsurface geologic mapping, compilations, and associated reports. The Bureau's Report of Investigations No. 277, titled Wolfberry (Wolfcampian-Leonardian) Deep-Water Depositional Systems in the Midland Basin: Stratigraphy, Lithofacies, Reservoirs, and Source Rocks, has been among the Bureau's best sellers since its publication in 2012.


Four Bureau graduate students are among those recently honored as Statoil research fellows for 2014. Jesse Berney, Stephen Schwarz, Gregory Hurd, and Sun Junzhe were awarded scholarships as part of Statoil's program inviting student collaboration in real-world, hands-on research to answer some of the industry's most challenging questions. The fellows are selected in a competitive process focused on key areas of strategic research, including geology, geophysics, and petrophysics. BEG Director Scott Tinker and Associate Director Eric Potter currently serve on the program's selection committee.
Students ascend an outcrop during a StatOil-sponsored field trip to the Arctic

Heat flow map of Texas: click to see larger image

Stark, steamy volcanic crags buttressed by gleaming pipes leading to a power generating plant is how most of us probably think about geothermal energy. But the Bureau hosts a small team of innovative researchers who are certain that "unconventional geothermal" energy is the cheapest, cleanest way to meet Texas' electricity requirements for years to come. In an effort led by the Bureau's own geothermal energy evangelist, Bruce Cutright, Texas became the largest contributor of data to the newly-launched U.S. Department of Energy National Geothermal Data System (NGDS), an online open-source platform that facilitates the discovery and use of geothermal data, hopefully enabling future researchers to speed geothermal energy development.

Image of Texas 3D subsurface from Geothermal Research in Deep Sediments (GRIDS) database

Why does geothermal energy make so much sense today? For one thing, the development of binary-cycle heat exchanging systems, steam generators which use low-boiling point refrigerants instead of water to produce steam, allow us to tap into much cooler heat sources than "traditional" geothermal systems, which need to be located over geologic "hot spots". Bottom-hole temperatures of only 200 – 400 degrees are needed as the heat source for these new binary-cycle generators, and there are over 26,000 existing oil and gas wells in Texas alone which already meet that criterion.

Bruce Cutright (top row, left) and the Geothermal reserarch team at BEG

A pair of these wells circulating hot brines through a binary-cycle heat exchanging system produces less expensive electricity than any other renewable energy source (according to a recent Department of Energy analysis ). This geothermal energy is also base load, consistent power (not intermittent), and the process produces absolutely no CO2. The economics for "unconventional geothermal" in Texas also seem to work. "Every oil producer in the state should look at this as a way to extend the economic life of mature or watered-out fields with high reservoir temperatures," says Cutright. "Look at the benefits – a continuing income stream for the operator, royalties for the landowner, and severance taxes for the state - what's not to like!" Geothermal energy is definitely hot these days! To learn more about the new NGDS, click here: http://www.geothermaldata.org/



Seyyed Hosseini (standing) demonstrates the process for using EASiTool to determine storage capacity

Determining the storage capacity of any given rock formation is vital to qualifying it for possible CO2 injection and storage, and the Bureau has developed a software application which accomplishes just that.  EASiTool, or the Enhanced Analytical Simulation Tool, is the product of a project funded by the Department of Energy to produce a fast, reliable estimate for the storage capacity of any geological formation.  Project lead Seyyed Hosseini and his team from the Bureau’s Gulf Coast Carbon Center have used the first year of the three-year project to create an analytical solution to determining the storage capacity of geological formations, taking into account their thickness, porosity, area, shape, and other factors.  That solution, EASiTool, is fast and easy to use, and is grounded in science.  The software is now available for download free of charge for use by both technical and non-technical users, even those with only a minimal amount of engineering knowledge.  Partners in the project include C12 Energy, the Bureau’s STARR program, and UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences.  Plans for EASiTool include the release of a new version of the software in each year of the project, with the projected second version including more geomechanics ability to help guard EASiToolagainst the injection of too much CO2 into a formation.  For more information about EASiTool and how you can utilize this ground-breaking software, click here.

Greg Frébourg (right) examines core samples with workshop attendees

On May 19, Bill Ambrose, Tucker Hentz, Bob Loucks, Gregory Frébourg, and Eric Potter, members of the Bureau's STARR Group, in conjunction with the Austin Geological Society, conducted an all-day workshop on the Woodbine Group in East Texas field. The workshop, titled "Sequence Stratigraphy, Depositional Systems, and Facies Complexity in the Woodbine Group in East Texas Field," featured lectures on the field history, sequence stratigraphic and facies framework, and diagenetic controls on reservoir quality. The workshop culminated in a three-hour core workshop where participants were given a hands-on tour of cores representing a variety of reservoir facies in the field.
Bob Loucks (right) explains core features to workshop participants



 
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