Advanced science.  Applied technology.


Southwest Research Institute announces creation of Permian Basin Joint Industry Project

For immediate release

San Antonio – June 16, 2016 – Building on the success of the Eagle Ford Joint Industry Project, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is developing similar initiatives in the Permian Basin and Austin Chalk to help oil and gas producers use mechanical stratigraphic and structural geologic data to improve productivity amid low oil prices.

In 2015, SwRI conducted field investigations at various Permian Basin formations around West Texas to characterize mechanical properties, deformation styles, and tectonic settings. The latest data – now available to members of the new Permian Basin Joint Industry Project – includes regional maps showing fractures, faults, and folds, as well as the tectonic framework important to well planning and performance.

“We help the energy industry understand geology to improve the likelihood of success before investing millions of dollars into drilling thousands of feet of lateral wells,” said David A. Ferrill, director in SwRI’s Geosciences and Engineering Division. “The conventional wisdom is that you can drill anywhere in the Permian and it will produce oil, but that’s not the case with drilling in unconventional reservoirs. Natural fractures and other structures vary significantly throughout the basin, which influences the effectiveness of the lateral wells.”

Ferrill will discuss SwRI’s Permian Basin findings at the AAPG Annual Convention & Exhibition in Alberta, Canada, on June 22. The presentation, titled “Influence of tectonic setting on borehole-scale deformation around the margins of the Permian Basin (Texas, USA),” takes place at 2:10 p.m. (Mountain Time Zone) in room Palomino D. AAPG attendees can visit SwRI at Booth No. 1813 June 19–22.

SwRI geologists specialize in estimating the size and orientation of fractures induced by fluid injection by gathering and analyzing data on mechanical stratigraphy and natural deformation features. Critical to these analyses is the detailed characterization of the thickness and mechanical properties of beds, and the boundaries or transitions between beds. These mechanical layers are the framework in which natural and induced fractures and faults develop.

The Permian Basin has produced oil and gas for a century, mainly through conventional vertical wells, but the more recent emphasis on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has been focused on tapping shale units that include multiple reservoir intervals or “stacked plays” through sections that can be up to 2,000 feet thick.

SwRI has begun a similar effort to study the geological formation known as the Austin Chalk, which overlies the Eagle Ford Formation in parts of South-Central Texas and Mexico. In the present climate of low oil prices, the oil and gas industry is looking for efficient ways to leverage existing Eagle Ford infrastructure to produce additional oil and gas. The Austin Chalk’s co-location with the Eagle Ford presents opportunities to produce hydrocarbons with conventional and unconventional techniques.

Historically, Austin Chalk formations have been exploited as a conventional fractured reservoir, producing oil and gas from natural porosity and permeability using horizontal drilling. Producers hope to apply hydraulic fracturing technology to exploit the Austin Chalk as a hybrid unconventional reservoir.

“The natural porosity and permeability are enhanced by induced hydraulic fracturing to release hydrocarbons trapped in microscopic pores that would otherwise be isolated from fractures within fine-grained rock,” Ferrill said.

SwRI is initializing reconnaissance field investigations of Austin Chalk outcrops to improve understanding of mechanical layering and natural deformation. This research will help energy companies understand the Austin Chalk at the scale of a horizontal wellbore to optimize well placement and stimulation programs.

Since 2011, SwRI’s Geosciences and Engineering Division has led the Eagle Ford Joint Industry Project, offering the petroleum industry important insights into natural deformation and the crucial role that mechanical stratigraphy plays in controlling distribution and style of faulting, fracturing and related deformation.

For more information, contact Robert Crowe, (210) 522-4630, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.