Bureau of Economic Geology

Dr. Katie Smye

September 18, 2020
Dr. Katie Smye

About Dr. Katie Smye

Dr. Katie Smye is a research associate at the Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin. She joined the Bureau in 2013 as a postdoctoral researcher after receiving undergraduate degrees in geology and chemistry from the University of Oklahoma and a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences from the University of Cambridge where she was a Gates Cambridge Scholar. She is involved in two collaborative research projects at the Bureau: the Tight Oil Resource Assessment (TORA) program and the Center for Integrated Seismicity Research (CISR). Katie uses subsurface geologic characterization methods to study unconventional tight oil and shale gas formations as well as formations that receive saltwater disposal from hydraulic fracturing flowback and produced water.


What are your current research activities?

I work on subsurface geologic characterization to underpin basin-scale resource assessments, both of tight oil and shale gas producing formations (TORA) and of carbonate and siliciclastic systems that are targeted for disposal of hydraulic fracturing flowback and produced water (CISR). To address a broad range of research questions, I employ methods including stratigraphic interpretation, log-based lithofacies determination, assessment of reservoir properties and their relationship to facies and depositional environment, and interpretation of in situ stress and pore pressure.

What excites you the most about your current research?

Much of my research takes place at the boundaries of various subdisciplines. I find this aspect of my work particularly rewarding because it affords me the opportunity to identify linkages between disparate datasets and to continue learning and expanding my toolkit. Bridging the gap allows for integrated research that better positions us to answer important questions. One example is a recent collaboration with engineering colleagues in which we determined the relative roles of geologic heterogeneity and completion design in the performance of infill wells in the Permian Basin. Another example is a company-funded study we completed with economists and statisticians in which we determined the conditions under which wells drilled in poor-quality (e.g. high clay content) reservoir rocks were productive and whether those wells were economically viable.

What is the desired outcome of your research?

Common across the projects I work on is the need for detailed subsurface geological characterization. I seek to develop high-quality geologic interpretations with resolution sufficient to capture important geologic heterogeneity and that are robust enough to be used as a geological framework for further research applications.

Katie Smye at the Austin Core Research Center

Studying Delaware Basin core samples at the Bureau's Core Research Center in Austin, Texas.

What do you need in order to make your research efforts more successful?

We always need more data! The strength of our analyses is that they’re basin-wide; however, we rely primarily on publicly available data, and we know that there is much more out there than we have access to. It is a particular challenge of our work, but also an opportunity to market our results and recruit research partners.

What are your latest papers/publications, and what is most exciting about them?

My latest paper, which is scheduled for publication in AAPG Bulletin, is an interpretation of the magnitude of vertical stress in the Permian Basin region. This work is exciting because it provides a methodology for basin-wide integration of data to characterize variations in vertical stress. The potential applications include understanding induced seismicity, pore pressure, natural and generated fracture geometry, wellbore stability, and advanced geomechanical studies. We show that the magnitude of Sv at depth varies by up to 10% across the basin, and is higher on carbonate platforms and shelves than in basins where lower-density siliciclastics dominate.

Smye, K. M., Hennings, P. H., and Horne, E. A., in revision, Variations in Vertical Stress in the Permian Basin Region, AAPG Bulletin.

I was also involved in a paper presented at URTeC 2020 on the development of new features to predict infill well performance in the Wolfcamp of the Delaware Basin. This work is exciting because it takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding well performance that accounts for both geologic and engineering parameters.

Gherabati, S. A., Smye, K. M., and Hamlin, H. S., 2020, New Engineering and Geologic Parameters to Predict Infill Well Performance in the Delaware Basin Wolfcamp, Unconventional Resources Technology Conference, 22–24 July 2020, doi:10.15530/urtec-2020-3077.

Who will benefit from your latest paper or publication?

The findings will be of interest to a broad readership, including operators working in any shale gas or tight oil play, non-industry stakeholders who have an interest in U.S. unconventional development, and researchers in geomechanics and other fields.

What was your most exciting past paper or publication?

Last year I published a paper in GCAGS Journal comparing the geologic properties of shale gas and tight oil plays. It was important and exciting because it summarized data and interpretations that we have been amassing for nearly a decade, spanning all of the major U.S. shale gas and tight oil plays. It allowed us to compare reservoir properties of each play to form an understanding of what makes a productive unconventional play. We’re now probing the many ways this dataset can be used to understand well performance in U.S. unconventional plays.

Smye, K. M., Hamlin, H. S, Eastwood, R., and McDaid, G., 2019, Variability of Geologic Properties in Shale Gas and Tight Oil Plays, GCAGS Journal, vol. 8, p. 191–209.

Read the publication.

Who are the types of research partners you are seeking, and what skills or expertise could be of benefit to your research?

Ideal research partners would bring experience and subsurface data in specific local study areas, which we can then put into a basin-scale context and use to calibrate our models.

What are the desired relationships, expertise, or skills that could be brought in to benefit your research?

Integrated projects require a broad range of expertise, and I enjoy working with petrophysicists, structural geologists, engineers, economists, and statisticians. My work as a geoscientist is strengthened by collaborating with and learning from colleagues and, specifically, seeking to be more quantitative in my research. The combination of an understanding of geology and the ability to probe data is quite powerful.

What have been recent successes associated with your research?

Last year, I completed and published a subsurface characterization of the Ellenburger Group of the Fort Worth Basin, which has been targeted for saltwater disposal from producing Barnett Shale wells. This work was challenging due the lack of data available to interpret the stratigraphy and lithology. The results of that study, along with additional work, were used by collaborators to understand pore pressure evolution with Barnett production and Ellenburger saltwater disposal, and resultant earthquakes. The results have shown the potential to progress from bottom-up geology to an understanding of the causes of induced seismicity.

What is the geographic location of your research?

I work primarily in the Permian Basin (West Texas), but I also have experience in the Fort Worth Basin (Texas), the Eagle Ford region, the Appalachian Basin, the Williston Basin (Bakken and Three Forks), and in the Haynesville and Fayetteville plays.