spwm acousticsScientists at government laboratory have gotten positive results using acoustic energy to increase formation porosity and permeability. Photo courtesy Genevie Martin, ORNL.Researchers at a government energy laboratory are experimenting with use of acoustic energy to enhance the hydraulic energy used to fracture rock formations and release oil and natural gas.

If successful, the technique would improve fracture propagation and reduce volumes of water and chemicals needed in well completions, according to a news release.

The Dept. of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory reports a team of researchers have successfully improved fractures on core samples when exposed to ultrasonic vibrations in an acoustic bath.

The process resembles how a water-soaked sponge releases the water when squeezed, said Richard Hale, a member of the research team within ORNL’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate. “Acoustic energy is really, really good at squeezing these pores. In our core sample experiments, we can see the oil flows easily and rapidly from the rock.”

Acoustic energy has been used to clear away debris in and around the well surface, Hale said. “We want to take that concept to the next level to see if we can alter the formation porosity and permeability and reach more isolated pockets of oil and gas.”

The experiments involved using neutron beams to study fractures at the atomic level. When the core samples are exposed to ultrasonic vibrations, images made from neutron data reveal “unprecedented detail of how fluids react to and move through the pores in the rock,” Hale said.

As further experiments produce quantitative results, the laboratory will propose larger scale tests funded by one or more industry partners.