OFFshore N. Sea oil companies launch £250,000 new shale gas fracking project to tap ONshore reserves

Ray Riddoch, Managing Director of Nexen UK – which operates the UK’s biggest oil field – pictured (centre) recently in Aiberdeen with Scottish Trade & Industry Minister Keith (left) and Scottish Energy Minister Paul-Wheelhouse.
Ray Riddoch, Managing Director of Nexen UK – which operates the UK’s biggest N. Sea oil field – pictured (centre) recently in Aiberdeen with Scottish Trade & Industry Minister Keith Brown (left) and Scottish Energy Minister Paul-Wheelhouse.

Major (OFFshore) N. Sea oil exploration companies have launched a new £250,000 industry project to tap ONshore shale oil and gas by fracking – the day and daily, standard industry exploration process which the Scot-Govt has (temporarily) banned.

The UK offshore N. Sea oil and gas industry is increasingly (if belatedly) collaborating to improve the planning, design and implementation of hydraulic fracturing (aka ‘shale fracking’) to maximise the efficiency and profitability of unconventional (ie onshore) resources globally.

Under the UK Energy Act – the Aberdeen based (offshore) oil and gas regulator OGA is tasked with – and compelled – to Maximise Economic Recovery (MER) from the North Sea basin. 

OGA is presently promoting the ageing North Sea as a ‘mature basin – but with frontier-oil prospects’

OGA is also responsible for licensing ONshore oil and gas exploration licence-acreage in the UK.

Now the Aberdeen-based (oil) Industry Technology Facilitator –  alongside major oil exploration companies, including Marathon and Nexen – has launched a joint industry project to get maximum economic recovery (aka MER – a UK government, legislative requirement under the Energy Act) by improving hydraulic fracturing exploration techniques.

Hydraulic fracturing is widely used (in the North Sea) to enhance recovery of hydrocarbons from very low porosity reservoirs.

Significant challenges exist which could hamper the industry’s ability to optimise drilling, stimulation and work-over programmes in unconventional reservoirs.

Somewhat ironically, the announcement of this major new joint industry project – with huge significant supply-chain potential consequences – comes as the minority SNP-led Scot-Government is due to make a major announcement (8 Nov) on the future of onshore unconventional oil and gas exploration in Scotland.

See also: 

‘Fracking fever’ hits Holyrood as speculation mounts that Scottish Energy Minister is to announce SNP-Govt. Bill to outlaw Scots shale gas

The SNP-led minority Scots-Govt is 100% behind the N. Sea oil and gas industry and frequently lambasts the UK government for not doing enough to support what it sees as Scotland’s predominant energy industry.

Only yesterday, SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan) said: “Now is the time for the UK government to listen to common sense and commit to the future of oil and gas – a vital industry to the UK economy – in their Autumn Statement. 
“Exploration and development are integral to the growth of the sector and further incentives to invest, including tax breaks, would boost investor confidence and encourage them to bring their business to the North Sea.
“Thousands of jobs depend on oil and gas thriving in a competitive global marketplace, and the UK government needs to use this Autumn Statement to make substantial commitments and show that they understand the importance of this industry to the UK economy.”

With a membership of international oil and gas operator and service companies, the Industry Technology Facilitator has launched over 200 innovative joint industry projects.

ITF champions technology development and believes investment is crucial to solving the most pressing challenges the industry faces in securing reserves and maximising economic recovery.

Dr. Patrick O'Brien
Dr. Patrick O’Brien

Dr Patrick O’Brien, Chief Executive of ITF said: “Hydraulic fracturing presents a range of technical challenges but the application of finite element and discrete element technology will ultimately improve stimulation designs and allow for better prediction of the hydraulic fracturing process.

“This phase also sees the expansion into tight oil shales which are of key interest to ITF members globally.”

The software will be verified against experimental and operator supplied data and the modelling technology may then be used to enhance knowledge across a number of areas.

The FRAC-GAS II JIP continues the development of the Elfen tgr (tight gas reservoirs) software suite pioneered by the geomechanics software solutions developer, Rockfield. The research aims to enhance the finite element (FE) based modelling technology and microseismic methodology.

FRAC-GAS I developed the Elfen tgr software that has the following capability and allows the simulation of:

  • 3D hydraulic fracture propagation with curved paths
  • multi-stage and multi-well fracture interference (with proppant transport, stress shadows, flow back, fracture closure/embedment and production)
  • discrete fracture network (DFN) stimulation with synthetic microseismicity and hydraulic fracture interactions
  • mixed mode discrete tensile and continuum shear formation damage
  • hydraulic fracture propagation under the influence of near wellbore stress field

The FRAC-GAS II project will further extend the capability of the Elfen tgr software to incorporate mixed mode fracturing; multiphase flow; hydraulic fracturing for oil reservoirs, and linking computational technology for assessment of current days stress, forward modelling, and hydro-fracture modelling.

John Cain, Chief Executive of Rockfield, added: “The sponsorship of FRAC-GAS I enabled Rockfield to deliver a complete product in the shape of Elfen tgr that enables oil and gas operators and service companies alike to model both 2D and 3D fracture propagation in tight gas shale reservoirs.

“The software allows the simulation of full cycle of stimulation-production–re-fracturing-production operations including features such as fracture closure, proppant transport and multi-well interference.

“FRAC-GAS II consolidates on all of the work undertaken previously and allows the utilisation of further enhancements within both the analysis and user interface of the Elfen tgr software product.”

FRAC-GAS II brings substantial modelling capabilities and commercial benefits to the sponsoring organisations: Nexen, Marathon Oil and Repsol are contributing around £240,000 in total to the project.

The FRAC-GAS II JIP follows the recent announcement of the third phase of ITF’s PETGAS III (Petrophysics of Tight Gas Sandstones) project.

This brings together Energie Beheer Nederland (EBN), Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) and the University of Leeds, to examine the petrophysical properties of tight gas sandstones. This will enable oil producers to reduce the time and costs associated with determining the economic viability of gas fields.


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