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UTD Awarded $452,000 Dept. of Energy Grant
For Three-Dimensional Geological Studies

Ability to ‘See’ Into Earth Could Improve Oilfield Production Efficiency


RICHARDSON, Texas (Sept. 27, 2001) - The University of Texas at Dallas has been awarded a $452,000, three and one-half year grant by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to continue pioneering studies into the use of ground-penetrating radar to “see” into the earth and map underground geological formations in three dimensions, a technology that could improve oilfield production efficiency.

The grant was made through UTD’s Center for Lithospheric Studies to Dr. Janok P. Bhattacharya, associate professor of Ge

osciences at the university.

Bhattacharya, who spent 10 of the last 20 years as a geologist in the oil industry, said that
the underground mapping techniques being developed by UTD researchers are a significant improvement over state-of-the-art methods being employed by oil companies to determine the complexity of their underground oil and gas reservoirs.

“For example, seismic data, which allows you to see many miles below the earth’s surface, is relatively low resolution and therefore not capable of imaging the complexity and subtlety of underground reservoirs,” said Bhattacharya. “Because of this, geologists have to look at rock outcrops at the earth’s surface to figure out what things really look like down deep.

“Unfortunately, it has historically been impossible to look inside an outcrop. Ground-penetrating radar gives us that highly-detailed, three-dimensional inside view of the geology, including ‘dipping surfaces’ that may hold pockets of oil.”

According to Bhattacharya, the most likely application of the research would be in existing oilfields, where remaining or bypassed oil could be located and extracted.

“The challenge for oil companies is to obtain the maximum amount of oil from existing reservoirs as quickly as possible and at the lowest cost,” he said. “We think 3-D mapping will be a powerful tool to help make that happen.”

Bhattacharya’s work is a continuation of research that has been conducted at UTD for years, with funding by DOE.

“UTD pioneered these three-dimensional techniques and is the first organization to employ ground-penetrating radar integrated with more traditional tools of exploration to look at rocks,” he said.

Much of the UTD research to date has been carried out in Utah on rock outcrops, which provide strong, although two-dimensional, evidence of the underlying geologic makeup. By sweeping the earth behind the outcrop with radar, researchers, in essence, can peer inside the outcrop to view the distribution of rock layers, fissures, faults and other features evident on the face.

The technique has also been used to locate underground water sources such as aquifers, Bhattacharya said, as well as by police investigators to locate buried objects, such as murder victims.

Assisting Bhattacharya in his research are UTD colleague Dr. George A. McMechan, the Ida M. Green Professor of Geosciences and director of the Center for Lithospheric Studies, and Dr. Christopher D. White, assistant professor in The Craft and Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering at Louisiana State University.

About UTD

The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor, enrolls more than 7,000 undergraduate and 5,000 graduate students. The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university’s web site at www.utdallas.edu .


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June 13, 2002