REDUCING PRICES AT GAS PUMP GOAL OF UH
New Well Logging Technique Holds Promise for Increasing Drilling
HOUSTON, Feb. 1, 2006 – Developing radios no larger than
a grain of sand to increase the drilling efficiency of oil wells,
University of Houston engineers see promise for reducing prices
at the gas pump.
“Our research could have a great impact on oil prices,”
said Richard Liu, UH professor of electrical and computer engineering
and director of the university’s Well Logging Laboratory.
“Oil prices include everything, and drilling and exploration
are pretty big portions of the cost. If the technology we’re
developing is viable, then costs would get tremendously reduced.”
Liu is referring to a new technology that UH’s Well Logging
Laboratory presented at the group’s recent Industrial Consortium
hosted by the Cullen College of Engineering. The meeting focused
on the essential aspect of oil exploration that records key attributes
of oil wells during drilling, from the density of the rock being
drilled to the size of oil deposits encountered.
Well logging, a technique used in the oil and gas industry for
recording rock and fluid properties to find hydrocarbon zones below
the Earth’s crust, faces many obstacles. One of the biggest
is transmitting data from the bottom of a well to the surface where
it can be analyzed and drilling decisions can be made. Liu anticipates
that this new technology, which provides more information to the
individuals making drilling decisions, will improve the transmission
of data, resulting in faster and more efficient drilling.
“It will allow for faster and more accurate drilling,”
Liu said. “When you get more information from downhole, you
have a better understanding of the well’s formation. The drilling
becomes more efficient, which could result in lower gas prices for
Due to the extreme conditions encountered in oil wells, neither
sending data through wires nor via standard wireless communication
is possible. Temperatures in deep wells routinely surpass 300 degrees
Fahrenheit and pressure exceeds 20,000 pounds per square inch, Liu
said. The current method of a small pump near the drill bit repeatedly
expanding and contracting causes vibrations in the mud at the top
of the well that are translated into data at the rate of about 10
bits per second.
“That rate is simply not fast enough to relay all the pertinent
information to the people making drilling decisions,” he said.
“The information is there. You can measure it, digitize it,
store it, but you cannot send it to the surface.”
UH well logging researchers, however, presented a new system using
micro-electrical-mechanical-system (MEMS) technology that could
increase the data transfer rate 100-fold to as much as one kilobit
per second. MEMS-based technology enables the creation of near-microscopic
machines on silicon wafers, the material used to construct computer
chips, with well logging researchers using this technique to develop
a series of MEMS-based radios, each no larger than a grain of sand.
As an oil well is drilled, these radios are distributed every six
feet into the mud that fills the well, with the radio at the bottom
of the well receiving data from the logging equipment. That information
is then transferred up the well from radio to radio until it reaches
the people on the surface.
While other institutions host similar groups, UH’s Well Logging
Consortium is one of the oldest and most well established, with
the largest companies in the petroleum industry holding membership,
such as ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, Saudi Aramco, ConocoPhillips,
BP, Statoil, BakerHughes, Precision Energy Services, Schulmberger
and Halliburton. Additionally, the Well Logging Lab is home to the
world’s only American Petroleum Institute-endorsed calibration
facility for well logging tools based on nuclear technology.
About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research
and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers
and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate,
civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university
in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and
service with more than 35,000 students.
About the Cullen College of Engineering
UH Cullen College of Engineering has produced five U.S. astronauts,
ten members of the National Academy of Engineering, and degree programs
that have ranked in the top ten nationally. With more than 2,600
students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate
degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical
and computer, industrial, and mechanical engineering. It also offers
specialized programs in aerospace, materials, petroleum engineering
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