ESCI 557 – Section 3: Special topics in Earth Sciences – 

Unconventionals: from subsurface carbon to reservoir characterization 

Fridays 2-4 PM, KWGL 100

2 credits

Instructors: Ken Abdulah, Jonathan Ajo-Franklin, Dorothy Ballentine, Melodie French, Cin-Ty Lee, Daniel Minisini, John Sneider, Mark Torres

The ability to tap unconventional reservoirs, such as low permeability source rocks, has revolutionized the energy landscape in the United States, with far-reaching economic and geopolitical implications. At the same time, this foray into unconventionals has opened up a plethora of basic scientific questions related to the origin, evolution and migration of these hydrocarbons. This course will bring together an interdisciplinary group of academics and industry leaders to tackle a number of key outstanding questions. How do tectonics, basin evolution, climate, volcanism, ocean circulation and carbon and nutrient cycling on the regional and global scale control the formation of source rocks? How are the processes of sedimentary deposition manifested in terms of lithological, mechanical, and chemical heterogeneity on lengthscales from microns to meters? How can basic geologic and physical principles, in conjunction with various geophysical methods, be used to predict and extrapolate to a basin scale?   What are the basic physics involved in natural and induced migration of fluids, and can we gain insight from analog systems elsewhere? We will also discuss how these concepts translate into the completion of wells and their useful lifetimes, how unconventionals have changed the economics and geopolitics of energy, and finally, what the environmental and social costs have been. There will be a three day field trip out to Eagle Ford formation in west Texas to bring many of these concepts together. The interdisciplinary nature of this course will lead to new understanding in basic and applied hydrocarbon research.

March 27-29: Eagle Ford field trip led by Daniel Minisini (Shell)



Jan 17

Introduction to Unconventionals (Daniel Minisini -Shell)

Lecture 1 – Minisini

Jan 24

Introduction to Source Rock properties (Daniel Minisini)

Mudstones, carbon and stratigraphy (Kevin Bohacs)

Plate tectonics, earth systems, and source rocks (Bohacs et al. 2006)

Reservoir characteristics of unconventionals (Passey et al. 2010)

Introduction to fine-grained source rocks (Bohacs et al. 2013)

Jan 31

Plate tectonics, Geodynamics, Volcanism (Cin-Ty Lee)

Basin configuration (Kurt Rudolph)

Feb 7

Introduction to Stratigraphy and Sequence Stratigraphy (John Sneider & Dorothy Ballentine)

Case study of Vaca Muerta, Argentina (Daniel Minisini)

Feb 21

Introduction to Carbon cycling and biogeochemistry (Mark Torres)

Case studies in organic geochemistry (Jessica Hinojosa – Shell)

Feb 28

Introduction to Rock Physics (Jonathan Ajo-Franklin)

Rock Physics/Petrophysics of unconventionals (Kyle Spikes?)

Mar 6

Introduction to Geomechanics (French?)

Student discussions

Mar 13

Introduction to seismic data and rock properties (Ken Abdulah)

Case studies (Mario Gutierrez – Shell)

Mar 27-29 Field Trip to the Eagle Ford

Apr 3

Introduction to fluid flow in porous media – Gonnermann?

Enhanced oil recovery/reservoir modeling – Hirasaki? Dan Hill?

Apr 10

Monitoring and microseismics – Jonathan Ajo-Franklin

Introduction to Drilling and well completion in unconventionals – John Jeffers?

Case studies – Baishali Roy?

Apr 17

Economics (Pete Cramer)

Environmental impacts (methane, induced seismicity, water) (Helene Harding)

Lori Summa – Geoscience Technologies for Next-Generation Energy Challenges (date may change)

Apr 24

Student presentations

Synthesis (play elements, exploration)

Guidelines for talks: The seminar will be over 2 hours and consist of an introductory talk followed by a more topical talk. Each talk should be planned for no more than 40 minutes so as to provide ample time for discussion. All talks should be given at a level in which a broad audience can understand. The goal is to generate cross disciplinary discussions. The first talk must introduce basic and general concepts. The second talk can focus more on case studies.

All talks should attempt to first highlight what we currently know about the discipline exposed and how we know that. Talks, including the introductory parts, should also highlight what are some of the newest developments in the field, their implications, and open questions that need further research.

Student expectations: Students taking the course for credit are expected to read papers and participate in discussions each week. Students are also expected to organize into groups of 3 to 4 to tackle outstanding research problems. Groups should be interdisciplinary. Groups are expected to present their work at the end of the semester.