The oil and gas industry is constantly changing. Over the past few years, it has been under constant pressure to change towards renewable energy and alternative resources. There is a multitude of transferable skills and technologies that can be used towards these new developments.
Some examples of transferable sills and technologies, primarily developed and perfected in oil and gas are:
- Directional and horizontal drilling
- 3D seismic and mapping
- Magnetic ranging
- Advanced mud systems
- Recycling of existing infrastructure
- Surface facilities
Skills developed in the oil patch, such as drilling, completions, wellsite geology, geosteering, reservoir evaluation, geochemistry and lab analyses, can be directly transferred in emerging industries related to renewable energy and alternative resources.
Alternative resources refer to renewable energy, as well as other mineral resources that are used in the emerging green economy. There’s obviously geothermal energy, developed largely with the same methods used in oil and gas exploration and extraction. I would also mention lithium mining, and the option to extract it from reservoir brines; or extraction of phosphates through solution mining with water injection and brine production. I would also mention Carbon Dioxide capture and underground storage (CCUS), a method used routinely for tertiary recover in mature oil reservoirs. I see these emerging developments as an opportunity to apply skill and technology perfected in the petroleum industry.
There are a few types and flavors of geothermal developments.
Conventional hydrothermal systems refer to direct harvesting of hot water or steam from pressurized fluids in fractured and permeable rock encountered at shallow depths, often connected with hot springs. Development in these scenario is relatively straight forward, and widely used in select locations where the conditions are met, such as Iceland and California.
Enhanced Geothermal Systems, EGS, refers to extraction and reinjection of large volume of hot water from deep reservoirs, often stimulated with hydraulic fracturing, in order to achieve large water volumes. Of course, fracking is another technology developed in the unconventional hydrocarbon industry. Reservoir evaluation and mapping has to be very precise for this type of development, in order to achieve the large water discharges needed to make these systems viable.
Superhot rock geothermal are envisioned for high temperature and high pressure settings, where water resides in supercritical phase (upwards of 375 degree Celsius). Energy potential is very large, but so are technical challenges.
Advanced Geothermal Systems (AGS) are closed loop systems that harvest heat rather than reservoir water. These systems do not require hydraulic stimulation and generally target hot and dry formations, rock layers with low porosity and permeability, or even impermeable rock.
Back in 2019, Chinook participated in drilling of Eavor technologies’ closed loop geothermal system, built near Rocky Mountain House. This approach hold a few advantages, such as drastically reduced geological risk, as it does not target reservoir fluids or porous/permeable layers; eliminating the need for fracking (and the accompanying community backlash this entails); no parasitic load, as the fluid is moved through the loop based on thermosiphon effect. There are other challenges, of course, related to complex well geometry (but herein lies our expertise), then heat exchange at reservoir level (directly linked to thermal conductivity of the rock), fluid contamination in open hole (mitigated by sealing drilling muds), and also high construction costs. Low geological risk and potential for upscaling are major advantages.
Directional drilling has a long history in the oil and gas industry. As oil and gas basins mature, infill drilling and horizontal wells become prevalent, and directional drilling becomes essential in well execution. Quality has increased in leaps and bounds, from multi-leg wells, to extended reach drilling, to intersecting wellbores. High precision directional drilling is essential in drilling advanced geothermal systems, also in development of solution mining for phosphates or injection wells in thin stratigraphic layers.
Geosteering (or reservoir navigation) is directly applied in closed loop geothermal systems or in geothermal designs with horizontal wells. It is based on software that correlates curves measured while drilling with earth models generated from offset wells. The approach allows drilling in tightly controlled, thin rock layers, with increased precision and confidence. The approach is also used in solution mining or drilling of lithium wells, where large fluid discharges are achieved from horizontal wells.
Reservoir delineation and precision mapping is paramount for both traditional petroleum and geothermal exploration, as well as for other alternative resources. The leap in precision from 2D to 3D seismic is well known, and significantly reduces the geological risk. From this point of view, there is no difference between renewables and fossil fuels exploration.
Magnetic ranging technology was initially devised for collision avoidance when drilling wells in close proximity. It was then advanced and perfected in ultraheavy oil development, in Steam Assisted Gravitational Drainage (SAGD) methods, where an injector well is drilled at a precise distance from a horizontal producer well. The same technology is used now for well intersection, in dewatering horizontal coal seam gas wells, in phosphate solution mining, or in closing geothermal loops.
The images displayed here depict SAGD pads, a solution mining pad, a coal seam gas stacked multilateral and a closed loop geothermal system, all projects where magnetic ranging was deployed.
Drilling mud is an essential component in all well drilling, be it oil and gas, geothermal or other resources. Managed pressure systems allow us to drill underbalanced without damaging the geological formations, keeping wellbore integrity and preventing blowouts. Advanced mud systems ensure hole cleaning and formation fluid control. It is also essential in achieving extended reach laterals.
Laboratory analysis, perfected over the years in the oil and gas industry, are efficiently applied in alternative resources. For example in geothermal, mineralogic analyses are used to determine thermal conductivity of rocks at reservoir pressure. Geochemical analyses of formation brines identify high lithium concentrations. Gas component analyses (from chromatography, spectral analysis or mass spectroscopy) lead to the identification of helium in natural gas, and the list continues.
Semipermeable membranes are instrumental in the extraction and separation of hydrogen, lithium and helium, or for carbon dioxide separation for underground storage.
Oil and gas operators often own or lease infrastructure that can be reused and recycled in the quest for renewables and alternative resources. Well leases can be reused for drilling new wells, or for deepening or enlarging existing wells for geothermal energy extraction. Pipelines can be reused: oil pipelines to transport water for district heating, natural gas pipelines to transport hydrogen (up to 10% concentration by volume without any changes).
However, the most valuable asset is a highly skilled workforce, that is ready to deploy transferable skills towards new developments.