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Understanding the detailed physical and chemical structure of a reservoir will lead to better reservoir modeling, more optimal recovery strategies and, overall, more economical recovery of greater amounts of hydrocarbons. The Natural Materials Analytical Research Laboratory (NMARL) at the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) is able to provide timely, critical data to enhance our clients’ projects. Our analytical facilities combined with an experienced team of researchers provide a full range of advanced materials characterization and data interpretation using a variety of specialized equipment.

“We provide targeted solutions in all energy areas, including characterization of rocks from conventional and unconventional reservoirs to better understand primary oil production, CO2-based enhanced oil recovery, and CO2storage. We also characterize materials used or generated during oil and gas production, such as metal pipes and production tubing, which often experience corrosion- and scale-related issues,” said Senior Research Manager Beth Kurz, who oversees several of the EERC’s analytical research laboratories serving the Oil and Gas Group. 

“As the oil and gas industry has learned how to more efficiently extract hydrocarbons from unconventional reservoirs (i.e., characterized by very low permeability and porosity), our focus has been to provide better understanding of the rock characteristics that influence oil and gas extraction. Since wide-scale production of oil and gas from unconventional reservoirs is a relatively new paradigm for industry, it is surprising how much is still unknown regarding the small-scale features within the reservoir rocks, such as micro- and nanoscale fractures and pore networks, and how they affect production,” said Kurz.

Development of one of the largest unconventional oil and gas plays in North America is occurring in North Dakota and Montana, with oil-in-place estimates in the Bakken petroleum system ranging from 300 to 900 billion barrels. Using current methods, recovery of that oil is estimated at between 4% and 6%. Development is expected to continue for decades to come.

New analytical techniques that provide even greater amounts of critical data are continuously being developed, especially in the areas of imaging and mineral mapping. By integrating polarizing light microscopy imaging and mineral identification with scanning electron microscope (SEM) imaging and particle chemistry, along with x-ray diffraction (XRD) mineralogy and SEM mineral mapping, a fairly detailed inventory of grains or minerals can be compiled, along with their relationship to each other and the environment to which they are, were, or will be exposed. This information can be used in a number of different ways, whether in unraveling the depositional and burial history of rocks, reconstructing fluid pathways in the rocks, understanding corrosion mechanisms of tubing and casing, or predicting mineralogical effects that enhanced oil recovery techniques may have on the reservoir.

This SEM backscattered electron image is of a Bakken Middle Member sample with a corresponding mineral map. The dark lines are fractures, and a small amount of illite (a clay mineral) can be seen filling some of the fracture network in the mineral map. Fracture networks are the pathways for fluid migration in low-porosity rocks, and mineralization along those pathways can impede flow.

bakken middle member

The analytical tools housed in NMARL are particularly well suited for reservoir characterization. Years of experience with the capabilities and data interpretation of SEM, XRD, and x-ray fluorescence analyses support the EERC’s expertise in reservoir characterization.

To find out how NMARL can help enhance your projects and activities, click here. If you have questions on how NMARL capabilities can help you, call Senior Research Manager Beth Kurz at (701) 777-5050.