Few industries in the United States have undergone the same level of technological advancement and change as natural gas exploration and production. In just 30 years, massive investments in research and development have completely transformed the sector, to both increase production and adapt to the needs of a changing world.
Demand for energy is rising – but so is our necessity to find greener solutions for energy exploration, production, distribution and consumption. The natural gas industry has answered the call.
Innovative Tools and Techniques
Let’s explore the most impactful modernizations driving the industry forward:
- CO2-sand fracturing is an environmentally friendly fracturing technique that eliminates underground waste and protects groundwater while opening up cracks in the formation to increase the flow rate of natural gas to the surface.
- Replacing rigid, jointed drill pipe with coiled tubing lowers the cost of drilling, speeds up the process, produces a smaller drilling footprint, and uses less drilling mud.
- 3-D and 4-D seismic imaging offer a number of economic and environmental benefits. Through the creation of three-dimensional model of the subsurface layers, natural gas deposits can be more easily identified. Accurate imagery allows for more effective well placement and fewer dry holes.
- Slim hole drilling has reduced drill bit diameter from the conventional 12.25 inches to less than six inches. The lower cost and reduced environmental impact of slim hole drilling facilitates increased exploratory drilling, deeper wells in existing fields, and the potential to extract additional natural gas from older fields.
- Measurement-While-Drilling (MWD) systems collect data in real time at the location of the drill bit to inform drilling teams of upcoming rock formations. MWD increases accuracy and efficiency while reducing the risk of blowouts.
- Upgraded offshore drilling rigs, dynamic positioning devices, and advanced navigation systems are making it possible to safely drill and extract natural gas in waters deeper than ever before.
Technological Improvements by the Numbers1
Technological innovation in exploration and production over the past three decades has made it possible for the natural gas industry to keep up with growing demand while making remarkable improvements in efficiency, safety, and environmental stewardship.
- The same level of oil and gas reserves can be filled with 22,000 fewer wells than in 1985, with each well producing double the output.
- This increase in efficiency has led to the reduction of drilling waste by up to 148 million barrels and a 70% reduction in drilling footprints.
- The development of modular drilling rigs and slim hole drilling has led to a 75% reduction in the size and weight of drilling rigs for significantly less surface impact.
Storage and Transportation
In addition to advancements in exploration and production, improvements in the technology that condenses natural gas into LNG have expanded the distribution map for natural gas consumers, increased the potential for export, and made possible the extraction of natural gas deposits from remote locations.
By liquifying gas to be stored and/or transported in tanks, approximately 600x more fuel can be kept in the same volume of space. An additional benefit of liquification is that the process removes oxygen, carbon dioxide, sulfur, and water for a purer end product.
Keeping the U.S. Fueled for the Future
Natural gas technological advancement is helping the energy sector engage in low-cost, environmentally sound extraction from America’s vast domestic supply of natural gas. As innovation drives further efficiency, the nation will enjoy a secure energy future for many years to come.