Professor Awarded $1.6 Million DOE Grant for New Hydraulic Fracturing Tool

Cockrell School of Engineering professor Mukul Sharma has received a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to build and test a tool that could become a game-changer for hydraulic fracturing. The downhole tool could one day be used in fracture diagnostics to improve oil and gas recovery, reduce costs and help minimize the environmental footprint.

In November, DOE announced it would fund Sharma’s research as part of a larger effort “to minimize environmental impacts of unconventional oil and natural gas resources while maximizing the economic and national security benefits.”

Sharma and his team’s tool can be used to determine “propped” fracture dimensions of a well (which are different from the fractures made to create the well), the principal driver for well productivity in hydraulic fracturing.

“A better understanding of the fracture geometry will lead to better fracture designs and improved oil and gas recovery,” said Sharma, a professor in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering.

Currently, no method exists to determine the in-situ propped fracture geometry of a well.

The research team’s downhole tool will be used in conjunction with an electrically conductive proppant, a solid material that is typically used in combination with fracking fluid to keep a hydraulic fracture open so that oil or gas can be extracted. The tool has the potential to estimate the propped length, height and orientation of hydraulic fractures, as well as the vertical distribution of proppant within the fracture.

The DOE grant will fund Sharma’s project for three years.