LSU professor proposes plan to convert orphan oil wells into carbon-neutral production wells
(WO) — Oil drilling has had its fair share of controversy as of late, leaving engineers trying to determine how to keep fossil fuels in play while considering environmentally-friendly solutions. LSU Craft & Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering Professor Dandina Rao has a plan that will not only create less carbon dioxide during oil production but will also make use of the millions of orphan wells that are scattered throughout the United States.
“With the oil industry possibly venturing toward renewable energy, the question is can we continue to use fossil fuels but in an environmentally sustainable manner, and that’s exactly what our invention does,” said Rao, the Emmett C. Wells Jr. Distinguished Professor.
Rao’s proposed pilot project recently received a grant from LSU’s LIFT2 (Leveraging Innovation for Technology Transfer) program, which moves innovative concepts closer to commercialization. His LIFT2 project would initially convert orphan wells to carbon-neutral production wells through GAGD-process adaptation.
GAGD stands for Gas-Assisted Gravity Drainage, an oil recovery process that has environmental benefits since it sequesters the CO2, or the flue gas. The GAGD process yields 65-95% of the original oil in place compared to other oil recovery methods, such as Conventional Gas Injection, which yield just 5-15% and use large volumes of CO2.
This LIFT2 project proposes to test the GAGD process in the field using orphan wells, which are oil wells that have been abandoned by companies for various reasons. Currently, there are 131,277 documented orphan wells in the United States. However, the U.S. Department of the Interior estimates there are 3.5 million nationwide that are undocumented. Louisiana has 4,601 of those, most of which are in the northwest corner of the state in Caddo and Union Parishes.
“Louisiana only caps 40-50 orphan wells each year because it’s costly, and there’s no budget for it,” Rao said. “Companies who were responsible walked away leaving it to the state. This has been a problem. There is no monetary incentive for companies to cap these wells, so you must create an incentive for industry to take positive action. Our proposal was to create that incentive.”
Another added benefit of this project, according to Rao, is getting Louisiana’s oil production trending upward again. From 1980 to 2020, oil production in the state has gone down from 200 million bbls per year to 40 million bbls per year.
“We want to help the state spur oil production in an environmentally sensitive manner, so we will have a booming energy and petrochemical industry for several decades into the future, [creating] jobs and prosperity,” he said. “There is a need for oil, not only as a source of energy, but also as a raw material for the enormous petrochemicals industry around the world, which neither solar nor wind energy can fulfill.”
Thanks to Rao and LSU Petroleum Engineering Postdoctoral Researcher Bikash Saikia, the university holds two patents on the GAGD and Single-Well-GAGD processes, with hopes to license the technology.
“The success of this project would have far-reaching consequences to Louisiana’s oil industry and economy,” Rao said.