Texas projects nab DOE oil and gas research grants

The U.S. Energy Department said Monday it will distribute $12.4 million in grants to 11 research projects — including five in Texas — aimed at improving methods for extracting natural gas from shale rock formations and boosting output from aging oil fields.

The Department’s Office of Fossil Energy said most of the money — $10.3 million — would go to projects that seek to reduce the environmental impact of shale gas development and accelerate the usage of advanced exploration and production technologies.

Among the eight shale-related projects chosen, four were in Texas, including two at Texas A&M University and two in the Houston area — CSI Technologies in Houston and the Houston Advanced Research Center in The Woodlands.

CSI Technologies is slated to get the largest chunk of funding. The research and consulting firm plans to use the $3 million grant to study the cement well casings that contain the chemicals used in the fracking process. The research hopes to  make the technique more efficient and prevent gas leakage, said CSI Technologies President Fred Sabins.

“It allows them to do a better job when they frack the well,” Sabins said. “The expertise we can come up with from our investigations will be helpful to all clients.”

CSI Technologies will study well sites in the Haynesville shale formation along the Texas-Louisiana border and the Marcellus shale in the Appalachian region.

The two-year project has a $5.5 million price tag. CSI Technologies will contribute $2.5 million.

Two research projects at Texas A&M University will also receive grants, one for $651,000 and the other for $763,000. The Houston Advanced Research Center in The Woodlands will receive $500,000 in funding. 

The remainder of the DOE grants — $2.1 million — will go to three projects that are working on ways to extract “stranded” oil from mature fields. One of the three projects is in Texas, located at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa. The school is in the heart of the Permian Basin, a massive oil-producing region stretching from West Texas into New Mexico, that continues to coax oil from fields, some in production since the 1920s.

The awards come amid increasing scrutiny of methods used to unlock vast gas deposits from shales and other tight rock formations in the U.S. that are thought to contain enough gas to meet domestic needs for 100 years. Critics have placed special focus on a controversial extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure into wells to help crack open rock and release gas. They say the process can poison groundwater supplies and pollute the air.

But the oil and gas industry says the process has been safely used for more than 60 years.

“As a whole, information gained from the shale projects will further DOE’s effort to quantify the risks of environmental impacts from unconventional natural gas development, and to develop technologies to reduce those risks and mitigate any unforeseen impacts,” the DOE said in a press release Monday.

The remainder of the DOE grants — $2.1 million — will go to three projects that are working on ways to extract “stranded” oil from mature fields. One of the three projects is in Texas, located at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa. The school is in the heart of the Permian Basin, a massive oil-producing region stretching from West Texas into New Mexico, that continues to coax oil from fields, some in production since the 1920s.

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