University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources is a high-test research and development institution supercharged by industrial sponsors and the State of Wyoming. On occasion, the School (led by the mighty Mark Northam) puts together speakers from around the state and across the country to discuss key topics in energy science, technology and policy. A great example was last fall’s Hydraulic Fracking Forum, which gathered experts from academia, industry, regulatory agencies, state legislatures and national labs.
Dr. Northam invited me to give a keynote on the potential role of advanced technology on fracking and to show the breadth and depth of our expertise. I traveled to Laramie with two Livermore colleagues—Steve Bohlen and Tarabay Antoun. A month before leaving, the three of us discussed potential HPC simulations that would be relevant. Tarabay’s group provided a new set of simulations illustrating how important advanced modeling and simulation could be for fracking.
Forum discussion centered on water quality concerns, air pollution and land-use issues, as well as the economic impacts and benefits of development. Companies revealed their new, green fracking fluids and discussed what constituted best practices for worker safety and the environment. Every stakeholder in attendance agreed on a few common goals—more recovery per well, fewer wells and less environmental impact. The whole point of advanced fracking technology is to achieve these goals. That is where advanced simulation and modeling comes in.
We discussed the dreadful state of existing simulators and new approaches to the problem, including FEM-DEM models and new node-splitting hybrid approaches. Livermore’s new modeling platform showcased a calculation on the Marcellus shale. Using initializations from the literature, we revealed new phenomenology—self-propagating fractures that extended during production and pressure draw-down—all in a three-stage frack job exploiting the in-situ crustal stress. The audience was rapt.
We also shared a simulation showing how line and spherical energetic materials could induce dense fracture networks. We discussed how shock-wave interference could further amplify fracture stimulation, and how the in-situ stress could be used to exploit natural weaknesses, like gravity can take down a building in a precision drop implosion.
Both these approaches (new simulators, new stimulation approaches) held out the promise of improved recovery and reduced water use in fracking as did advanced data processing techniques (e.g., matched field processing) and stochastic representations of reservoir fractures and properties. We discussed HPC as a tool for advanced drilling and completion design and optimization of recovery.
In the end, Steve, Tarabay and I met a set of companies and actors to discuss potential partnerships. We hope and expect that these will lead to new opportunities to apply advanced supercomputing and simulation to a critical new problem in unconventional fossil energy production and environmental stewardship.
About the Author:
Julio is one of the most widely known and authoritative experts in the United States on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and underground coal gasification. In his current appointment as Chief Energy Technologist for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, he leads initiatives and research in carbon capture and storage and fossil fuel recovery and utilization. Read full bio.