UH Petroleum Engineering Research Team Helps Oil Companies Increase Production and Reduce Carbon Footprint

By Pramod Kulkarni, Editor

HOUSTON: The world may be transitioning towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar, but we still need higher volumes of oil and gas production to fulfill the energy demands of a growing global population. Furthermore, to minimize the impact on the environment, the oil and gas industry must produce fossil fuels with a lower carbon footprint.

University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering is at the forefront of innovative research and practical technologies to help oil and gas companies enhance production while reducing carbon pollution by one of two ways: using carbon dioxide (CO2) released by refining and petrochemical plants for injection into existing fields to recover more oil and gas or injecting the CO2 into inert underground caverns for permanent storage.

This petroleum engineering research effort is a significant component of the UH Energy Industrial Partnerships and a brilliant example of the University of Houston’s Tier 1 research capabilities fostered by UH Chancellor and President Renu Khator and UH Board of Regents member Dr. Durga D. Agarwal.

UH Petroleum Engineering Research Team

Under the leadership of Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, who serves as the Vice President of Energy & Innovation, Dr. Ganesh Thakur, Distinguished Professor of Petroleum Engineering, and director Energy Industry Partnerships, has assembled an extraordinary team of post-doctoral fellows, PhD, and MS graduate students to carry out the research and engineering projects.

The team includes Dr. Peila Chen, Dr. Morgan (Xuejia) Du, Sr. post-doc Prakash Sabyasachi, Research Associate Dr. Shameem Siddiqi, and PhD students Sameer Salaskar, Parth Shah, Mohammed Noman Khan, and Emi Marisol.

Dr. Ganesh Thakur: Distinguished Career

Dr. Thakur’s research interests include multi-disciplinary approaches to the recovery of oil and gas through research pertaining to CO2 – Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), waterflooding/Improved Oil Recovery (IOR), and integrated reservoir management for conventional and unconventional reservoirs, and Carbon Capture and Underground Storage (CCUS). He has published over 100 journal articles and conference papers and holds five patents. Prior to joining the University of Houston, Dr. Thakur enjoyed a distinguished career of 37 years with Chevron, concluding as Vice President and Global Advisor. He was the president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) during 2012.  He now serves as the Vice President of TAMEST (Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology), and he will become the President of this organization in January 2025. TAMEST was co-founded in 2004 by the Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison and Nobel Laureates Michael S. Brown, M.D., and Richard E. Smalley, Ph.D. With more than 340 members, 8 Nobel Laureates and 22 member institutions, TAMEST is composed of Texas-based members of the three National Academies and other honorific organizations.

The University of Houston Petroleum Engineering research team with lab instruments in the background. Front row from left: Emi Marisol. Dr. Ganesh Thakur, Mohammad Noman Khan. Back row from left: Dr. Morgan (Xuejia) Du, Dr. Peila Chen, Prakash Sabyasachi, Sameer Salaskar, and Parth Shah.

Reservoir Characterization and Modeling Lab

In 2016, the UH Petroleum Engineering Department received a $3 million grant from Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI), which was used to establish a research laboratory with the latest instruments to conduct reservoir characterization, modeling and CCUS studies. A matching grant of $3 million was provided from the University of Houston research funds by Chancellor Khator. The 1,200-square-ft lab includes a CT scanner, Pressure-Volume-Temperature (PVT) system, and Core Flood + Minimum Miscibility Pressure (MMP) dual system. With the use of these instruments, the team can unlock the full potential of conventional and unconventional resources through CO2 and gas EOR and maximize CO2 storage (CCS/CCUS) – onshore and offshore, and determine caprock robustness.

Joint UH-Oil India Project

One of the first projects undertaken by the UH Petroleum Engineering research team was an innovative partnership between the University of Houston and Oil India Ltd. (OIL). Launched in 2016, the project was designed to boost production in Oil India fields while providing UH researchers and graduate students with research opportunities and practical experience.

Phase 1 of the project began in December 2016 with a $500,000 reservoir screening study and focused on analyzing wells in Oil India’s Makum-North Hapjan field to provide recommendations that could quickly boost oil production. More than 50 reservoirs were screened for EOR applications, containing more than 2.5 billion barrels of original oil-in-place.

Phase 2 came with funding of $1.4 million, with an additional $325,000 for lab-based research. The UH team developed a new petrophysical model for the Makum-North Hapjan fields. Together with new core data and reservoir simulation work, this modeling revealed a significantly higher amount of original oil in place, suggesting Oil India’s reserves are greater than originally estimated. An additional amount of more than 130 million barrels of oil have been identified by rigorous research involving development of a new petrophysical model, and integrated geoscience and reservoir engineering and simulation studies.

The $2.6 million Phase 3 focused on enhancing oil production by using carbon dioxide captured from nearby petrochemical plants to boost oil recovery in several fields and builds upon the field improvements undertaken in the second phase. The recommendations made current water influx and future water flood more effective, CO2 EOR applicable, and increase RF (recovery factor) from 31% to 40%, with the overall potential to add 19 million barrels of incremental oil.

“The Phase 3 research work involved more than 18 months of amazing teamwork between UH researchers and Oil India executives in the challenging pandemic time,” Dr. Thakur said. “The project involved several US and India visits by both parties, but due to the Covid-19 situation, most of the weekly interactions happened by videoconferencing at midnight, Houston time. The UH researchers made real sacrifices, and the fruits of their hard work paid off in creating tremendous business impact.”

“The partnership between Oil India and the UH Cullen College of Engineering is proof of the valuable contributions that we can make with expanded industry relations,” Dr. Durga Agarwal said, “to foster further improvement at the College and university system. Creating more of these successful partnerships internationally and domestically is vital. As an alumni of the University of Houston, I’m proud to see international initiatives like this thrive.”

Projects throughout the World

The Oil India project was completed in June 2021. Since then, the UH Petroleum Engineering research team has undertaken numerous oil and gas projects throughout the world, including deepwater Gulf of Mexico, Permian Basin, and onshore Argentina. Despite continual changes in the research team due to graduations and the addition of new graduate students, Dr. Thakur’s focus on achieving optimum results remains unchanged.