New Technologies in Natural Gas Exploration and Production

New Technologies in Natural Gas Exploration and Production Blog

Over the past few decades, the global gas industry in developed countries has become one of the most technologically advanced industries. The introduction of high technology has transformed the industry and placed it among the technological leaders of the global economy.

As one of the world’s cleanest and most abundant fossil fuels, natural gas is increasingly being used for energy production. This is leading to an ever-increasing demand for this type of energy. At the same time, consumption of the blue fuel is expected by a number of experts to continue to increase. In particular, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts a “golden age” of natural gas in the coming years. It will increasingly replace other forms of energy and its share of the global energy mix will rise to 25 percent or more by 2035, up from 21 percent today.

The natural gas industry needs to keep pace with growing demand and produce more natural gas, including through qualitative growth, i.e. through technological innovation. The development of unconventional sources of natural gas holds great potential for the further development of the natural gas industry. Thus, in the past few years, the development of shale gas in the U.S. is developing rapidly. In its turn, technologies of methane extraction from coal beds are highly relevant for Russia. Russian Gazprom, in particular, cites this area as one of the main directions of the gas concern’s strategy for the expansion of its resource base. Implementation of natural gas production projects on the sea shelf, including in the Arctic, occupies a special place for expansion of the resource base for domestic and foreign oil and gas companies.

This section describes some of the innovations that have transformed the gas industry. First of all, it highlights technologies in the field of exploration and production. It also describes the innovations that have expanded the potential of natural gas as a fuel and enabled it to claim the role of the most promising energy source of the 21st century.

Technological innovations in the upstream sector have succeeded in opening up new opportunities for the industry to increase natural gas production and meet the growing demand for natural gas. Importantly, these technologies have made natural gas exploration and production more efficient, safe and environmentally friendly. Some of the technological innovations in this area are briefly discussed below:

  • 3D and 4D seismic surveys – The development of seismic surveys to acquire and analyze rock density data in three dimensions has dramatically changed the nature of natural gas production. 3D seismic surveys combine traditional seismic imaging techniques with the power of powerful computers, resulting in three-dimensional models of subsurface layers. 4D seismic imaging complements these and allows us to observe changes in characteristics over time. 3D and 4D make it easier to identify promising fields, improve field development efficiency, reduce the number of dry holes, lower drilling costs, and shorten exploration time. All this leads to economic and environmental benefits.
  • CO2 – Sand – hydraulic fracturing (hydraulic fracturing). The hydraulic fracturing method has been used since the 1970s, increasing the yield of natural gas and oil from underground formations. The CO2 – sand – hydraulic fracturing technology uses a mixture of proppant sand and liquid CO2, leading to the formation and expansion of fractures through which oil and natural gas can flow more freely. The CO2 then evaporates, leaving only the sand in the formation in the absence of other residues from the fracturing process that must be removed. This technology increases natural gas recovery while being environmentally friendly because it creates no waste underground and also protects groundwater resources.
  • Coiled tubing is one of the fastest growing trends in gas and oilfield equipment worldwide. Coiled tubing is based on the use of coiled tubing during drilling and well operation. Coiled tubing technologies includes metallurgical component – production of special metallic coiled tubing, design component – design of surface and downhole equipment and instrumentation of data processing program. Coiled tubing technologies decrease considerably the cost of drilling as well as the probability of emergency situations and oil spills, reduce the amount of waste, and cut the working time 3-4 times as much as the traditional methods. Coiled tubing can be used in combination with complex drilling operations to increase drilling efficiency, achieve higher hydrocarbon recovery and lessen the impact on the environment.
  • Telemetry systems. In foreign literature such systems are called MWD (measurement while drilling) – systems designed to measure drilling parameters and transmit information to the surface. The information received and processed by means of modern telemetry technologies allows workers on the field to monitor the drilling process, which reduces the probability of errors and accidents. In addition, the use of telemetry systems can also be useful for geologists, providing information about the properties of the rock being drilled.
  • Slimhole drilling. This technology can significantly increase the efficiency of drilling operations, as well as reduce the impact on the environment. It is a cost-effective method for drilling exploration wells in new areas, deep wells in existing fields, and for extracting natural gas from undeveloped fields.
  • Deep-water drilling. Deep-water drilling technologies have made great leaps forward in recent years. At present, they allow safe and efficient development of fields in waters deeper than 3 km. At present the main directions of further development of these technologies are improvement of offshore drilling rigs, development of dynamic positioning devices, creation of complex navigation systems.
  • Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a method that allows to develop hydrocarbon deposits, including shale gas. It consists in injecting a special mixture of water, sand and chemical reagents into the gas-bearing rock layer under high pressure. Cracks form in the gas-bearing layer under pressure, through which hydrocarbons seep to the well. Today, hydraulic fracturing is widely used in the development of oil and gas fields. Recently, however, concerns about the risks associated with this method of production have not subsided. The above-mentioned technology has the potential to contaminate water resources, and there is also the potential risk of linking hydraulic fracturing with seismic activity.

These technological advances provide only part of the sophisticated technologies that have been put into practice in the exploration and production of natural gas and are continually being improved. These technologies have enabled the natural gas industry to achieve better economic results and enable the development of fields previously considered unprofitable.

In turn, there are technologies that pave the way for wider use of the potential of natural gas as an energy carrier. First and foremost, this is the use of liquefied natural gas, which has revolutionized the gas industry. In addition, the use of fuel cells opens up great prospects.

  • Liquefied natural gas. One of the most promising directions of development of the gas industry is the development of new technologies and equipment for production, storage, transportation and use and creation of equipment for liquefaction of natural gas. LNG – conventional natural gas, artificially liquefied, by cooling to -160°C. Its volume is reduced by a factor of 600. LNG is considered one of the most promising and environmentally friendly energy sources which has a number of advantages. First of all, it is easier to transport and store than conventional natural gas. In its liquid form LNG has no ability to explode or ignite. A particularly important advantage of LNG in terms of energy security is that it can be transported anywhere in the world, even to areas without natural gas pipelines. That is why LNG is becoming increasingly important for many countries. In Japan, for example, virtually 100% of its gas needs are covered by LNG imports.
  • Fuel Cells. Scientific research is ongoing to create economically attractive technologies for fuel cells based on natural gas. They have the potential to make a qualitative breakthrough in the use of blue fuel, dramatically expanding the applications of natural gas. Developments in the production of electricity from fuel cells are expected to create a convenient, safe, and environmentally friendly energy source for transportation, industry, and households in the near future. Fuel cells resemble batteries. They work by transferring the flow of fuel (usually hydrogen) and oxidizer to electrodes separated by an electrolyte. The elimination of the intermediate combustion stage increases the efficiency of the energy generation process. Thus, the efficiency of fuel cells is much higher than that of conventional generation using fossil fuels. It is also important that the use of fuel cells makes it possible to drastically reduce the amount of harmful emissions. For example, in some types of fuel cells, the reaction products are only water and heat. Other advantages of fuel cells include their reliability and the ability to create compact energy sources based on them that can operate autonomously.