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Research Spending & Results

Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of Utah
  • John D McLennan
  • (801) 587-7925
  • Peter Smeallie
  • Sidney Green Prof
Award Date:05/16/2019
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 49,105
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 49,105
  • FY 2019=$49,105
Start Date:05/15/2019
End Date:10/31/2019
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.041
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Reducing the Environmental Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing by Improved Effectiveness of Pumped Fluid and Proppant
Federal Award ID Number:1934183
DUNS ID:009095365
Parent DUNS ID:009095365
Program:EnvS-Environmtl Sustainability
Program Officer:
  • Bruce Hamilton
  • (703) 292-7066

Awardee Location

Street:75 S 2000 E
County:Salt Lake City
Awardee Cong. District:02

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:The University of Utah
Street:50 South Central Campus Dr. Rm 3
City:Salt Lake City
County:Salt Lake City
Cong. District:02

Abstract at Time of Award

Unconventional, low and ultra-low permeability oil/gas formations require well stimulation to allow practical and economical production. This process of well stimulation has become known as "hydraulic fracturing" or "fracking." The recovery factor, as the percent of the oil or gas in place that is being recovered, is relatively low. Most of the oil or gas in place is left unrecovered and thus requiring larger and larger operations and creating larger environmental impact of the large-scale operations. Although industry desires to improve the recovery factor for both economic and environmental reasons, this has not been possible. This Workshop is intended to develop a vision for major breakthrough. A major breakthrough would reduce the wasted hydraulic fracturing effort and reduce the associated environmental impact. Focusing more directly on reducing the wasted hydraulic fracturing effort to increase the recovery factor and reduce the environmental impact requires visionary innovative thinking. The current operating mode of near-term cost reductions for producers and improving margins for services companies may not facilitate visionary, innovative thought. This Workshop is to be a rallying of university, industry, and National Laboratories engineers and scientists to define what understandings are adequate and what unknowns require further research, engineering, and field testing. The potential eventual impacts could result in very significant reduction of environmental consequences of fracking. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

The recovery of oil and gas from unconventional ultra-low permeability formations – often referred to as shale oil/gas recovery accomplished by hydraulic fracturing – has drastically changed the US and the world. This huge US technical success has unfortunately been achieved with some substantial environmental consequences. In the past decade, however, recovery operations have significantly improved, thereby reducing recovery costs and reducing environmental impacts. Nevertheless, this oil/gas recovery continues to implement extremely large operations and the percent of the oil/gas in place recovered continues to be quite low and relatively unchanged with incremental technology changes. Environmental impacts tend to be associated with the massive scale of the operations, and projections do not suggest a further reduction in these impacts without a large-scale change in recovery methods. Any large-scale change of this nature requires broad visionary thinking involving multiple and diverse technology disciplines. This program considered potential for large-scale change and focused on several areas.

  1. Extremely large fracture surface area, connected to the production well, must be created for fluid flow into the wellbore and allow for economic recovery from these ultra-low permeability rock formations; more effectively developing this created surface area is a key to any large change in operations.

  2. Reasonably knowing the location and extent of the created fracture surface area is essential to allow oil/gas production optimization for any given well. Optimized/maximized production needs to include enhanced production protocols to ultimately improve the percent of oil/gas that is recovered. New technology for better understanding the rock and fluid interactions as well as understanding the producing formation’s rock fabric is essential for improving oil/gas fluid mobility and facilitating a large improvement in the recovery factor with less commodity (water, sand) use.

  3. As better quality oil/gas reservoirs are depleted – sometimes referred to as “sweet spots,” lower quality reservoirs will be produced; and, large-scale change is required to avoid higher recovery costs and more significant environmental impacts.

The program recommended that detailed broad and visionary consideration should be given to the areas above. Research opportunities should be developed to allow focusing researchers at universities, industry, and national laboratories toward a large-scale change in shale oil/gas hydraulic fracturing recovery methods that will both reduce recovery costs and reduce environmental impacts. Focusing on reducing environmental impacts should be an overall driver.   

Last Modified: 11/12/2019
Modified by: John D Mclennan

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