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Russian physicists come up with optimal way of extracting shale oil

August 10, 15:28 UTC+3
The researchers suggest that the new technology may allow avoiding a decrease in profitability in the extraction of unconventional oil, classified as ‘hard-to-recover’ in Russia
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© Maxim Slutsky /TASS

MOSCOW, August 10. /TASS/ Russian researchers from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) have developed software for geologic calculations that will substitute foreign-made analogous programs unavailable because of sanctions.

The researchers suggest that the new technology may allow avoiding a decrease in profitability in the extraction of unconventional oil, classified as ‘hard-to-recover’ in Russia.

To extract shale oil, multiple hydraulic fracturing (aka hydrofracking) is applied. It involves high-pressure injection of fluid into a horizontal borehole. The fluid used is typically water with sand or other specially designed additives (called proppants). The rock formation is first fractured by water, allowing oil to flow freely into the borehole. When the pressure is released, the fractures are held open by the proppant (e.g. sand). This speeds up oil extraction and increases production output. However, this technique relies on preliminary calculations; if these are ignored, enormous financial losses could follow.

The unpredictable crack propagation and rock failure under hydrofracking can lead to the destruction of water or gas layers. If oil is contaminated by water or gas, the equipment operation will be deteriorated, corrosion will be anticipated and hence development costs will far exceed the revenue. To simulate the behavior of fractured rock and thus eliminate potential risks, computer modeling should be used.

After restrictions imposed on Russian oil-related services by the EU and the US in 2014, no special software for hydrofracking analysis is provided to Russian oil companies. In view of this, several major international credit rating agencies, among them FitchRatings, have prophesied that any shale oil projects in Russia would become unprofitable.

The research team from the Chair of Applied Mechanics at MIPT have succeeded in designing the necessary software which can replace the foreign ones. The new software is capable of predicting the mutual influence of crack one onto another and to simulate the trajectory of their propagation.

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