The current shale revolution was made possible by the application of public R&D dollars to develop the needed technologies to unlock energy supplies for future generations.

For example, the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration (the precursor to today’s U.S. Dept. of Energy [DOE]) partnered with General Electric in the 1970s to develop the polycrystalline diamond compact bit for use in tough rock formations like shale to reduce drilling costs. Between 1978 and 1992, the DOE invested about $137 million in research that developed the technologies used to unlock production in the Barnett Shale and other plays.

It’s an investment that continues to generate positive results for the industry.

The DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) teamed up with the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) in 2014 to “develop and execute a hydraulic fracturing test site program to answer questions, advance the understanding of the hydraulic fracturing processes to attain greater efficiencies and improve environmental impacts,” according to the project’s online fact sheet.

The NETL-GTI project field site, provided by Laredo Petroleum in 2015, is located in Reagan County, Texas. The site includes 11 existing wells with 3,048-m (10,000-ft) horizontal legs drilled through the Upper and Middle Wolfcamp Formation in the Permian Basin. The work conducted by GTI researchers includes before and after seismic surveys of hydraulic fracturing operations, core sampling and more, according to the project’s online fact sheet. Work on the project is expected to end in June.

The DOE’s field efforts do not end in the Wolfcamp. Six projects were selected by the agency to receive approximately $30 million in federal funding for cost-shared R&D in unconventional oil and natural gas recovery. The projects, announced earlier this year, seek to “address critical gaps in the understanding of reservoir behavior and optimal well completion strategies,” as stated in a press release announcing the projects. Four of the six are field projects.

GTI will perform multiple experiments in the Delaware Basin’s Wolfcamp Formation to evaluate well completion, design optimization and environmental impact, according to the press release.

The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station will conduct a field study of stimulated reservoir volume, fracture characteristics and EOR potential in the Eagle Ford Shale, the press release stated.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will address knowledge gaps regarding the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, according to the release.

The “Field Laboratory for Emerging Stacked Unconventional Plays in Central Appalachia” project awarded to the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will quantify the benefits of novel completion strategies for lateral wells in the unconventional Lower Huron Shale, according to the release.

By continuing in the spirit of partnership struck more than four decades ago, public and private entities are unlocking the energy supplies needed for future generations. Long may that spirit flow!