“In the past few years, it has become very difficult for university faculty interested in unconventional shales to raise government or private funds for student support and equipment for their research projects. Several university organizations have taken to organizing consortia of oil and gas companies to raise the necessary funds.”
That’s AAPG Honorary Member Roger M. Slatt, director of the Institute of Reservoir Characterization and Gungoll chair professor of petroleum geology and geophysics at the University of Oklahoma, explaining why he and the university did exactly that.
“I initiated the Consortium in 2012, under the name Woodford Consortium,” which, he said, was a time when “unconventional shales” were flourishing and serendipity appeared.
It started with a need.
“I had a number of eager, talented graduate students. Also, shales (more precisely, mudstones) have always been my favored and most challenging research topic, having co-authored a book on the subject in 1990, and having since studied a variety of shales while in both industry and academia,” he explained.
Staking a Claim
He said his initial plan was to compare the stratigraphy of a number of different shales around the United States; unfortunately, he wasn’t the only academician/scientist who thought that would be a great idea.
“I soon learned that other universities had ‘staked their claim’ to their local shale, so I decided to do the same with the Woodford in Oklahoma. Although there are other such shale studies being done in other Oklahoma institutions, including the university’s College of Earth and Energy at University of Oklahoma, to our knowledge, ours is about the longest standing and most inexpensive unconventional shale consortium in the state,” he said.
Inexpensive, perhaps, but still costly. And it is why such consortia are structured the way they are.
“Student financial and logistical support has come almost solely from a very modest fee required of companies to join the Consortium,” said Slatt.
The funds are used to provide student research assistantships. This, in turn, has allowed Slatt to attract and support excellent graduate students who can both continue their training at a high level and do the work industry often can’t.
“Time is a serious constraint in industry offices, which often leads to only a broad-brush approach to things like mapping, measuring a core section,” he said.
And here Slatt introduces two wonderful terms: “lumpers” and “splitters.”
Such broad-brushed geoscientists are called lumpers.
“At the opposite end of the spectrum are splitters,” he said, “who work at a much smaller scale for a better understanding of localized stratal features.”
Eventually the twain will meet back up again.
“Generally, when we begin a project, we are at the lumper scale, but work our way down to the splitter scale, which is more time consuming, but also more revealing of smaller features that may influence production. We generally complete a project by upscaling back to the lumper stage if required,” Slatt explained.
Specifically, the Consortium has been funded through the years by 31 companies and is presently subdivided into four phases, each of 1.5-year duration.
“Recently we changed the consortium name to ‘STACK-MERGE-SCOOP Consortium’ to reflect expansion of our student-led research program from the Woodford to the Sycamore (Meramec) mainly in the Merge and adjacent areas of Oklahoma,” Slatt said.
(“STACK” stands for the Sooner Trend (oil field), the Anadarko (Basin), and Canadian and Kingfisher (counties). “SCOOP” stands for the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province.)
Not all companies are active at all times. Presently, 19 companies are involved in STACK. What they get for their time and funding include quarterly and final-phase reports, which are provided through a proprietary Consortium website.
“Our student group also lead single-company field trips and core workshops, which are always popular, and periodically provide relevant information and opinions to members.”
The companies that make up the consortia funding base not only change, but Slatt emphasizes the underlying mission of the work changes as well.
“The initial focus was on the stratigraphy of the Woodford, but a number of observations and questions led us to expand into geomechanics, geochemistry, geophysics and geochemistry and their applications,” he said.
Slatt’s students have now completed 30 theses and dissertations, and related publications on the Woodford. Specifically, the work carried out by them, includes:
- Developing workflow for integrated resource shale characterizations and a robust depositional model for Oklahoma Woodford
- Providing key properties to select horizontal landing zones
- Locating sweet spots from well log and seismic mapping of rock properties
- Applying outcrops to subsurface characterization
- Relating fracture and micro-fracture development to rock types, lithology to TOC content, and laminations to break-ability
- Inputting into brittleness index calculations
- Developing methodology for X-ray fluourescence (XRF) chemostratigraphic analysis for determining rock
- Assisting in determining seismic/acoustic properties of shale types
- Creating an inexpensive technique for pore evaluation; identified pore types/geometry
- Educating students and current industry personnel for shale screening and evaluation
- Compiling library of theses/dissertations/data available on Woodford and other shales
- Leading workshops
- Introducing drone technology to shale outcrop characterization
Slatt said the academic and corporate missions mirror each other so well precisely because they have different objectives.
“As an academic institution, the primary goal of the Institute and this Consortium is education. Our students have completed several integrated shale (and other) studies which involve rocks, logs and seismic, so that upon completion, masters and doctoral graduates are well versed in aspects of shale characterization, want to work in the petroleum industry, and can hit the ground running when starting a job. Studies like our Woodford project are ideally suited for academia because prospective students are numerous, enthusiastic and have a longer time interval to complete a more thorough project than their industry counterparts,” he explained.
An added bonus: the relationship doesn’t end at graduation.
“We have developed good rapport with some of the member companies and work closely with them, sometimes leading to student employment upon graduation,” Slatt added.
One industry executive, Kraig Koroleski of Echo Energy in Oklahoma City, commenting on the Consortium, said, “The work you have completed with your students is astounding, and this work will have a profound impact on the academic and industrial communities for many years.”
“I can only hope,” said Slatt, “that we do have and maintain that profound impact.”