Alberta universities launch project to improve monitoring of fracking

Mirko van der Baan is the co-investigator of a University of Alberta-University of Calgary project to improve monitoring of resource industry fracking.

13 November 2012

(Calgary and Edmonton) A $1.86 million joint research project at the University of Calgary and University of Alberta will help geophysicists and engineers listen to hydraulic fracture treatments.
Research team member Mirko van der Baan of the University of Alberta told the Edmonton Journal: "We want to understand the geomechanics. The monitoring of (microseismic events) is important."

By using sensors called geophones lowered deep into a borehole to record ground vibrations, University of Calgary and University of Alberta scientists can now pinpoint and analyze rock fracturing as it occurs. This microseismic monitoring is one of the few techniques available to track and chart the growth of fractures during hydraulic fracture treatments. Information gathered with microseismic monitoring is used to improve the process and detect any fractures that occur outside the zone of interest.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is providing 50% of the funding for this three-year, $1.86 million initiative while 10 Canadian industry partners will contribute the remainder.

"Collaborating with Alberta's oil and gas sector to investigate key industry issues, expanding international understanding of new monitoring techniques and offering students an invaluable opportunity for hands on learning through this partnership between the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta will bring economic benefits today and tomorrow and safeguard against unexpected environmental effects," said Ed McCauley, vice-president (research) for the University of Calgary.

David Eaton, a professor of geophysics in the University of Calgary's Department of Geoscience, is the principal investigator for the project while UAlberta physicist Van der Baan will be the co-investigator. Both researchers specialize in microseismic monitoring, a rapidly developing technology that draws from several areas of research including applied geophysics and earthquake seismology.

Eaton is excited that "the NSERC Collaborative Research and Development grant fosters unique university-industry synergies incorporating all aspects of microseismic technology, from data acquisition in the field to state-of-the-art computer visualization."

Lorne Babiuk, VP Research at the University of Alberta, shares Eaton's excitement. "Alberta's resource industries are able to connect to breakthrough research and the best new technologies through projects like this when top research groups at U of C and the U of A collaborate on issues of strategic importance to all Canadians. This research will further advance the important work being done in Alberta on energy and the environment," Babiuk said.

The University of Calgary is the only university in the world with a borehole microseismic system, designed by the Canadian-based company ESG Solutions and purchased with funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Alberta Innovates. This unique capability allows researchers to design experiments and test concepts otherwise too costly for industry specialists to execute on their own. It also provides superb training for students as they acquire hands-on experience with all aspects of a microseismic monitoring program.

"This fieldwork brought to life many theoretical concepts learned during my undergraduate degree and let me apply them in real situations," said Andres Puente, a recent University of Calgary Department of Geoscience graduate who helped install the equipment. "This will be a real asset in my career as a geophysicist."

In addition to the NSERC grant, 10 partners including oil and gas companies, mining industries, and microseismic service providers, are providing funding and working closely with researchers to find innovative solutions to industry needs.

"Microseismic monitoring plays a pivotal role in helping to better understand the effects on the reservoir and the surrounding rocks of our hydraulic fracture completions and ConocoPhillips is pleased to participate in this university-industry initiative," said Larry Matthews, a geophysicist with ConocoPhillips, one of 10 sponsoring companies involved in the project.