Ed Wanat: Studying the life cycle - Energy Factor
Behind the energy

Ed Wanat: Studying the life cycle

Aug. 24, 2016

A U.S. Geological Survey report may seem like an odd choice of light reading for a high school kid. But this one piqued my interest.

It was the mid 1990’s, and the report was about how ice traps methane underground in huge reservoirs that could be used to produce natural gas. There are challenges to getting at those resources and the challenges fascinated me. A light bulb went off right then and I knew I wanted to be a part of figuring out these types of problems. Today I get to do just that.

Back in high school, I was also lucky to have a great chemistry teacher. He loved the lab and his passion was contagious. He made science about more than a mere textbook. It was tangible. It was everywhere around us. And I came to view the world through the lens of science. That passion led me to earn a PhD in chemical engineering. And when ExxonMobil offered me a job, I jumped at the chance.

Most people don’t realize how much chemical engineering goes into extracting oil and gas from the rocks in which they’re trapped. I think people imagine shows like the Beverly Hillbillies where all you do is put a deep enough hole in the ground and the oil flows from a pool of hydrocarbons.

It’s much more difficult than that. Producing the energy the world needs keeps getting harder as we search in tighter resources like shale rock that isn’t as porous as the sandstone of earlier wells. In addition, what a lot of people don’t know is, current technology only enables us to recover only a small part of the oil and gas in the reservoir.

Today, I take the passion for lab work that my high school chemistry teacher instilled in me and I apply it to measuring fluid properties of oil and gas. Understanding these properties is important because they change over time. My job is to understand these changes before they happen in the reservoir. I’ve spent the last two years building a lab that can help us do that more effectively.

ExxonMobil is committed to understanding the chemical makeup of the oil and gas it produces and how its properties change over time. The new lab is a reflection of that commitment. By understanding the fluid properties, it helps us design our facilities, drilling and completions, and reservoir management strategy.  One exciting potential opportunity is to take advantage of ExxonMobil industry leading research into carbon capture technology for use in enhanced recovery methods.

Every field is different. Every well within a field is different. When you multiply all of those variables out over ExxonMobil’s thousands of wells, our understanding of those variables can help us produce more oil and natural gas, more effectively, while reducing emissions and wasted effort in the search for energy. Think of it like caring for a well from the cradle to the grave.

You don’t have to be an aficionado of U.S.Geological Survey reports to see why that is critical. Though they’re a fun summer read all the same.