Fluid density and viscosity measurements are crucial to oil and gas operations, impacting activities across the exploration, production, and transportation sectors. A fluid’s viscosity determines the pressure required to transport it through a pipe with given dimensions, with more viscous liquids requiring higher pressure and resulting in lower flow rates. Additionally, density measurements are key to hydraulic fracturing operations, allowing companies to determine the correct amount of proppant to use. For these reasons, both density and viscosity play a large role in the pressure balance of a production system.
In many cases, oil and gas operators can reduce a fluid’s viscosity by heating or diluting it after measuring its current properties. However, the extreme conditions of oil and gas reservoirs cause difficulties in terms of collecting this critical data, as power shortages, space limitations, vibrations, and high pressure and temperature make the majority of laboratory-grade equipment impractical. Moreover, most lab equipment requires the collection of fluid samples, which offer little use to an operator in need of immediate measurements to aid the real-time optimization of drilling operations.
Fortunately, recent technological innovations have increased operators’ ability to measure fluid density and viscosity without traditional lab instruments. The Rheonics DV-2000 consists of a torsional tuning fork that displays varying resonant traits based on its interaction with surrounding fluid. This technology has formed the basis for a number of inline density-viscosity instruments, including the Rheonics DVM, which adds a titanium mounting and high-pressure inlet and outlet fittings to the original DV-2000 tuning fork. Using these technologies, oil and gas operators can begin to conduct critical analyses of pipeline fluids without the need for samples or cumbersome equipment.
In March 2015, the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the final draft of its regulations on hydraulic fracturing on public and tribal property. Aimed at improving safety and preventing groundwater contamination, the new rule bolstered requirements for wastewater disposal, wellbore integrity, and transparency regarding chemicals. However, a number of states have taken issue with the regulatory update.
On March 26, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead filed suit against the BLM for regulatory review, and North Dakota, Colorado, and Utah joined the effort soon after. The states argue that, in initiating the new requirements, the BLM has exceeded its authority and that the federal agency’s updated regulations will conflict with rules already in place at the state level. State leaders such as Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert have posited that the new requirements would lead to an inconsistent and inefficient regulatory system that could add several years and millions of dollars in expenses to the permitting process.
Neil Kornze, director of the BLM, has stated that the updated regulations would not take the place of more rigid requirements already in place at the state level, noting that they are intended only to fill regulatory gaps. However, the states contend that the recent regulations conflict with existing laws at both the state and federal level, including the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
While all interests in oil and gas operations receive a portion of the production revenue, varying types of interests yield different rights and responsibilities. Individuals or groups holding a mineral interest do not pay any operational expenses but share a percentage of production revenue. This is because mineral interest owners possess the rights to the minerals produced. One producing well may have multiple mineral interest owners, with each earning a separate revenue interest, generally ranging from 12.5 percent to 25 percent.
Perhaps the most clearly identifiable owners in an oil and gas operation, working interest owners maintain leases with mineral owners that allow them to carry out oil and gas extraction activities. The largest working interest at one site is the “operator,” and although working interests share production revenues based on their percentage of ownership, they also pay corresponding portions of the lease and production costs.
By selling a portion of their revenue income but choosing to retain their mineral rights, mineral interest owners can create royalty interests. Although often referred to interchangeably, mineral and royalty interests differ greatly in the case of nonparticipating royalty interests, or NPRI. In an NPRI, the owner does not hold the rights to the produced minerals but is entitled to a portion of the revenue. For this reason, NPRI owners may not negotiate lease terms or accept rental payments.
Lastly, an overriding royalty interest, or ORRI, grants partial ownership of a particular lease or well rather than its mineral production. ORRI owners receive a portion of a lease’s production revenue, but the interest expires along with the lease when production ceases.
The energy sector has been investigating the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, popularly known as drones, for nearly a decade. British Petroleum started its first tests in 2006 and recently became one of the first in the industry to obtain a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate drones. Largely because the FAA has mandated numerous limits on drone activity, including requirements for drone pilots to maintain sight of all flights, the pace of adoption remains slow, but industry specialists have already begun exploring the many ways that drones can be useful in and around oil rigs across the globe.
For most companies, drones have proven most useful as inspection tools, whether one wants to check flare stack integrity or use infrared cameras to find early signs of oil pipeline leaks. Rig operators have begun deploying drones to check for everything from ground movement to wildlife activity, and innovative mapping technologies are allowing for fine-grain models of oil-rich environments. Drones have even been used within the rigs themselves, thanks to special enclosures that protect the vehicle as it moves through oil tankers. While the FAA has only approved a portion of the applications for drone usage in the United States, industry specialists believe that drones represent an important component of the energy sector’s future.
In a recent press release, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the sole national trade association for all sectors of the oil and natural gas industry, urged US legislators to remove dated trade restrictions on US oil. Responding to America’s emergence as the world’s top oil producer, API president and CEO Jack Gerard called on lawmakers to take advantage of this prosperity. He credited widespread innovation with launching America to the forefront of the global energy sector but noted that trade limits dating back to the 1970s pose the risk of stunting this economic potential. Mr. Gerard cited numerous studies that indicate stringent oil trade restrictions have negative repercussions on consumer costs, limit job creation, and restrict America’s economic potential as a global energy leader.
Jack Gerard stressed that lessened oil trade restrictions have the potential to counter other nations’ use of energy as a geopolitical leveraging point. Urging the US Senate to prioritize oil trade reform in 2015, he noted that increasing global competition in the energy market has made the issue more salient than ever.
Deposits of oil and natural gas in porous layers of rock and shale often occur alongside large quantities of saltwater. In order to bring these resources to the surface for further production, oil and gas companies must first remove the surrounding saltwater, which is also known as produced water or oilfield brine. This liquid contains high levels of salt as well as industrial compounds and hydrocarbons. While there are various ways to dispose of the saltwater and flowback fluid resulting from hydraulic fracturing, improper disposal may pose a threat to subterranean and aboveground fresh water.
Firms may choose to recycle the saltwater via evaporation or distillation. However, these processes often require a significant, consistent flow of water in order to serve as financially viable disposal strategies. While this is possible in regions with a large number of producing wells and an established saltwater pipeline infrastructure, recycling does not account for 100 percent of saltwater disposal, thus necessitating additional disposal methods.
Oil and gas companies may opt to use saltwater disposal wells, injecting the saltwater into non-producing underground formations of porous rock. This practice requires layers of impermeable strata both above and below the disposal well to protect shallow fresh water and is used extensively throughout Texas, where it falls under the jurisdiction of the Railroad Commission of Texas. The agency has mandated that saltwater disposal wells must contain several layers of cement and steel to protect usable fresh water at shallow depths, and it has outlined three distinct layers of well casing. The commission also restricts the establishment of saltwater disposal wells to locations that already contain naturally occurring saltwater.
In 2014, an international leader in pipeline maintenance and emission management introduced an innovative new strategy for detecting oil and gas pipeline leaks. Based in Belgium, The Sniffers has worked to detect and analyze leaks in pipelines and industrial equipment since 1991. It recently launched its dogs division, employing a team of trained canines to facilitate hazard detection around the world. Each dog receives certification from Technischer Ueberwachungsverein, a German safety assessment organization, after successfully completing 40 simulations in natural settings. Working in pairs, The Sniffers’ dogs are able to cover large distances and traverse rural and agricultural terrain, in addition to offering shorter leak detection times and increased accuracy. While most state-of-the-art oil and gas leak-detection tools measure pollutants at parts per million, The Sniffers’ dog division is capable of detecting leaks at parts per billion.
Since the division’s inception, The Sniffers’ leak-detection dogs have examined thousands of kilometers of varying terrain, including mountains, rivers, highways, and suburban developments. In addition to locating safety hazards related to oil and gas production, the canines can also detect explosives, narcotics, and underground short circuits. They have been successful in detecting water leaks in Japan, and have worked to detect illegal pipeline tapping in Georgia, where they identified the first illegal tap in less than four hours.