Devon is widely known as an energy industry pioneer with a history of finding new ways to create value where the bit meets the rock, deep underground.
Today, Devon's pioneering work continues – in places including a laboratory at the University of Oklahoma. Scientists with amazing new tools are peering deep inside limestones and shales; a dual-beam electron microscope examines the rocks' microstructure to see how they might produce even more oil and gas.
It might sound like science fiction; but it is actually the next chapter in a true story that started 10 years ago in the Barnett Shale of North Texas. There, Devon's success with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing triggered a revolution in energy production. It is now widely agreed that shale and other unconventional rock formations contain many of the world's most promising new sources of oil and gas, scarcely a decade after all but a very few thought production from so-called "tight" rocks to be impossible.
How does it work?
"We know it works, but now we're moving beyond that – to understanding how it works," said Devon geoscientist Greg Appleton, who works directly with the rock lab scientists at OU. "How does fracturing the rock make oil and gas flow? What can be done differently to make it work more efficiently? Our partners in the rock lab are helping us answer these kinds of questions."
On campus, inside OU's Sarkeys Energy Center, is the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering, home of the Integrated Core Characterization Center – also known as the Devon Nanolab. The lab's co-directors, Professors Chandra Rai and Carl Sondergeld, lead a team of 25 undergraduate and graduate students engaged in research using the tools supplied by Devon.
"Shales are rocks composed of tiny grains – smaller than 5 microns, and this means the holes or pores between the grains are even smaller than that," Sondergeld said. "We need – and now have – technologies that can see and measure extremely small objects."
It is a $22 million investment for Devon, which equates to the cost of drilling and completing a handful of new wells. Devon drilled 1,400 wells last year, so it's a relatively small investment expected to produce big returns in terms of production, efficiency, and selecting locations for new wells.
"We've learned so much in just a few years about the microstructure of these rocks," Appleton said. "We're now focused on liquids-rich formations, working to understand how the large molecules of liquid hydrocarbons are stored and released from what to the naked eye appears to be solid rock."
Images in 3-D
The Devon Nanolab is producing 3D images of rocks from deep-drilled core samples, and magnifying the images millions of times in crystal-clear resolution for observation and analysis.
"We are gaining unique insights into hydraulic fracturing," Sondergeld said. "We are discovering important information about the fracturing process that will lead to more effective stimulation in the field."
As Devon continues to lead the technological revolution, its pioneering work continues in new places with names like Utica and Niobrara, and also in familiar places such as the Permian. And when Devon announces where it will drill next, you can be sure the rocks have already been viewed in super 3D by the scientists in the Nanolab at OU.