DNA sequencing takes digital solutions to microbial level
July 15, 2019
Oil and gas operators have access to a new data source for reservoir characterization to maximize production and NPV, while minimizing environmental impact. Biota Technology, in operation since 2013, with its principal office in Houston, has developed a means of analyzing the bacteria that emerge from the wellhead, thousands of feet below the ground where primordial microbes exist in harsh conditions.

These microbes exist in abundance within onshore reservoirs, such as the Bakken, Permian, Eagle Ford, and Montney Shale, as well as offshore reservoirs such as Gulf of Mexico and North Sea. 

Until now, oil and gas companies have given relatively little consideration to these lifeforms. This is changing, as both Biota and its clients see the potential to extract more oil and gas more efficiently by understanding the microbes better. Data science and machine learning tools are being applied to the company’s dataset to translate the millions of DNA markers into actionable insights for operators.

As an example, Biota’s subsurface DNA solutions are now being used to guide well spacing, inform completion design, evaluate well communication, and understand production profiling.     

This diagnostic technology is essentially a high-resolution evaluation tool that allows oil and gas operators the ability to track fluid movement in the reservoir, increasing subsurface understanding and maximizing reservoir economics.

DNA database

Biota has analyzed DNA markers acquired from over 1,000 wells from all major unconventional basins and has built the world’s largest subsurface DNA database. Its expertise has been sought out by key industry players such as Anadarko Petroleum, as these companies look to maximize value in their subsurface drilling operations.

A number of producers active in the Permian Basin and beyond have dispatched samples to the company’s labs, looking for data to help guide more efficient well placement, and hence lower capital and production costs. Biota analyzes over 5,000 DNA sequences per sample, allowing for quantification and monitoring of microbial communities over time, including before and after operational changes. 

Dr. Hasan Shojaei, Principal Reservoir Engineer at Biota, describes Subsurface DNA Diagnostic as a “non-invasive, high-resolution data source” that does not require downhole tool deployment or added environmental risk. 

How does it work? “We take the drill cuttings from a well and then extract the microbes and sequence them and then uniquely identify the microbes that exist in each depth of the subsurface. We do the same for produced fluids, extract them and sequence them. Then we run our machine learning algorithms to determine where in the subsurface that produced fluid is coming from,” Shojaei told Upstream Intelligence. 

He said there are multiple other applications for DNA sequencing. “For example, if there are multiple wells, then we can tell which child well is impacting a given parent well. These sorts of insights are key to optimizing operations and understanding how many wells you need to drill, and how far from one another they should be – as well as in what order you need to plan your wells and understanding what sorts of engineering decisions impact their production,” said Shojaei.
Microbes are extracted from drill cuttings.
Source: Biotagraphic

Subsurface DNA Diagnostics have been extensively deployed in the Wolfcamp Shale, Bonespring and Spraberry formations in the Permian Basin to estimate vertical drainage heights and optimum landing zones for multiple laterals. 

“In this area, companies tend to have landed their horizontal wells in the Wolfcamp in most cases. So if you have spaced your wells correctly and they are draining well, then you may not need to put three horizontal wells in, you may only need two,” said Shojaei. “Companies can get the same economics with fewer wells.”

Another opportunity described by Shojaei would be to place fewer wells with a larger completion size, managing a larger volume of fluid being injected per well. “We can help them pinpoint where in the reservoir is responding to each of these completion strategies so they can choose the most efficient option”, Shojaei said.

Having worked on more than 1,000 wells, Biota has proven the application works to provide meaningful solutions to operators in the Permian, STACK/SCOOP, Powder River Basin, Marcellus, as well as to customers who are active in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Asia.
There is now scope for deploying more such data-driven techniques in the subsurface, and in unconventional areas. “We’re seeing the digital transition making real headway across the industry, and this is really just the beginning. People are still flirting with the idea, testing out some of the data-driven models. Some are working on automated drilling, and we are nowhere near finished with this process,” said Shojaei.
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