Colo. university launches center to study unconventional plays

A Colorado university is launching a research program designed to better understand unconventional natural gas resources such as shale plays, coalbed methane and gas hydrates.

The Unconventional Natural Gas Institute at the Colorado School of Mines will aid in technical development and technology transfer for unconventional gas sources, which domestically are estimated to contain trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

"As a domestic energy source, natural gas is abundant but 'locked up' in these unconventional reservoirs that we're just now beginning to really understand," Jennifer Miskimins, the institute's director, said in an e-mail. "As a 'bridge' fuel to alternative energies down the road, we need to further our understanding of maximizing recovery from these types of reservoirs."

Industry has been flocking to unconventional natural gas plays to exploit the vast reserves thought to be trapped in shales, tight sands and other nontraditional reservoirs. But technical challenges remain, and environmentalists and legislators have raised questions about the impacts of exploiting the resources.

"There are numerous issues associated with development of these reservoirs, from improving technical recovery to understanding water use issues -- problems that need to be solved in an environmentally sensitive, economic fashion," Miskimins wrote. "We believe we have the personnel in-house to work on these issues, and the institute will give us a platform to maximize that potential."

The engineering university will draw on research and resources in its petroleum engineering, geology, geophysics, petrophysics, chemical engineering and general engineering programs to launch the institute and address those challenges.

"This lower carbon alternative will contribute to the diversification of our domestic energy supplies. It's a critical piece in the nation's energy puzzle," said Colorado School of Mines President M.W. Scoggins in a statement. "Mines is the ideal hub to lead innovative developments in this vital energy arena."

While the institute currently has no specific funding, Miskimins said it will incorporate several research centers and consortia on campus that are already funded through government and industry. Similar funding is being pursued for the new institute, she said.


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