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Texas Engineers to Play Role in Energizing India

Engineers with The University of Texas at Austin signed a $5 million deal over 10 years with India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

Petroleum and geosystems professor and Texas Engineer Kishore Mohanty, in a lab, holds a pipette of oil and detergent while examining its separation. This international collaboration will provide resources to UT Austin professors, who will share their specialized expertise with people on the ground in India. This partnership will fortify India’s indigenous energy capabilities, which will hopefully lead to greater self-sufficiency.  

The country may have significant oil and gas reserves of its own, but it lacks the requisite expertise in key areas to fully exploit them. Texas Engineers will work alongside engineers with the Institute for Reservoir Studies of the ONGC, the nation’s state-owned energy supplier, providing knowledge and expertise on how to most efficiently recover oil. It is innovative, technology-driven techniques that could liberate India’s economy from an over reliance on imported energy.

Despite the best estimates suggesting 75 percent of India’s oil and gas reserves are yet to be discovered, the country still imports approximately 80 percent of its energy needs to meet the growing demand of the country’s more than one billion people.

Those fields that have been explored are yet to be fully exploited, which is where professor Kishore Mohanty, director of the Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering in the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, and his research team come in. Mohanty is an expert in the Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) process known as alkaline-surfactant-polymer flooding, a method that can extract almost all of the oil in the swept reservoir. EOR techniques vary considerably, depending on the materials used and the approach taken. And although it may not be the most common method for oil extraction, it is one of the most efficient.

“Water flooding is one of the cheapest ways of extracting oil,” Mohanty said. “Although, it is not very efficient. About 20 to 40 percent of oil can be obtained successfully using water flooding, so more than 60 percent of your oil is left behind.”

There are a variety of EOR techniques in use — gas and thermal recovery are some examples — but they are applicable to specific reservoirs, e.g., deep reservoirs and viscous oil, respectively. Surfactant-polymer flooding is more flexible and can apply to a variety of reservoirs.

“Surfactants act like detergents, meaning oil can be extracted anywhere the floods reach,” Mohanty said.

Texas Engineers will be sharing their expertise with their Indian counterparts so that they can develop their own indigenous skill set in alkaline-surfactant-polymer flooding.   

The potential economic benefits to India, where current demand for energy is insatiable, are significant. “If we could get an additional 25 percent of the oil from these indigenous oil fields, this would have tremendous benefits on India’s economy,” Mohanty said.