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News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, Feb. 27, 2009

Kansas Geological Survey gets funding to test new oil production methods

LAWRENCE--Researchers at the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the University of Kansas, have been awarded a contract to test a new approach to oil production that could increase U.S. production and reduce drilling costs while minimizing environmental impact.

The $248,000 contract from the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) will be used to assess recently developed techniques that may make it more economical for small producers to squeeze additional oil out of existing wells.

"We've seen indications that considerable oil reserves remain that can be tapped by improved oil recovery techniques," Survey geologist Lynn Watney said. "But testing is needed to evaluate the new methods and optimally tailor them to specific reservoirs."

Survey scientists are working with an industry partner, Wichita oil producer American Energies Corporation (AEC), to test the innovative methods in Marion County's Hillsboro Field in central Kansas. Production in the Hillsboro Field has dropped significantly since its heyday, and only two wells are currently producing oil--each approximately 8 barrels a day.

"About 18% of U.S. production comes from wells that produce less than 10 barrels of oil per day," Watney said. "Among the 42,000 wells in Kansas, the average daily production is slightly over 2 barrels per day."

Watney and Survey co-investigators, Saibal Bhattarcharya, John Doveton, and David Newell, will analyze results as the new techniques are applied to one of the Hillsboro wells, watching to see if production in the well can be pushed upward--possibly as high as 40 barrels per day.

If successful, these techniques would not only produce more oil but would be more cost effective, energy efficient, and environmentally friendly than current production methods. Innovations include replacing traditional pump jacks with low-profile, high volume pumps; drilling lateral drainholes in producing wells; and using low-pressure water pipes to minimize water leakage on the surface.

Like many low-producing wells, the Hillsboro wells contain large quantities of brine, or salt water, that impede oil production. Many wells still containing significant quantities of oil have been abandoned throughout the state due to similar high water content.

Using the new techniques being tested by the Survey, the producer will remove excess brine in an attempt to reach and economically recover the remaining oil. Although these methods have been attempted before, the results have not been widely studied or their potential impact on production in Kansas evaluated.

Funding for the project is provided through the "Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources Research and Development Program" authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This program--funded from lease bonuses and royalties paid by industry to produce oil and gas on federal lands--is specifically designed to increase supply and reduce costs to consumers while enhancing the global leadership position of the United States in energy technology through the development of domestic intellectual capital. RPSEA is under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory to administer several elements of the program.

RPSEA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit consortium with more than 140 members, including 25 of the nation's premier research universities, five national laboratories, other major research institutions, large and small energy producers and energy consumers. The mission of RPSEA, headquartered in Sugar Land, Texas, is to provide a stewardship role in ensuring the focused research, development and deployment of safe and environmentally responsible technology that can effectively deliver hydrocarbons from domestic resources to the citizens of the United States. Additional information can be found at

Story by Cathy Evans, (785) 864-2195.
For more information, contact Lynn Watney, (785) 864-2184.

Kansas Geological Survey, Public Outreach