Using Electronic Lab Notebooks to Support Research on Long-Term Oil and Gas Storage

ELN

Even though the 1973 oil embargo ended more than forty years ago, energy independence remains an important goal in the United States. A recent report highlights the importance of long-term energy storage facilities for achieving this aim. Image credit: Flickr user WalterPro

For over four decades, energy independence has been a major concern for policymakers, scientists and citizens in the United States. In the aftermath of the 1973 oil embargo, which left millions of Americans without access to the petroleum they needed to drive their cars, the United States established the Strategic Petroleum Reserve: four long-term petroleum storage facilities in underground salt domes in the Gulf Coast region. The Department of Energy established these facilities with the goal of ensuring that the government would be able to respond to any petroleum supply crisis by authorizing the necessary extractions.

Careful geotechnical monitoring and analysis is required to verify the continuing integrity of the storage facilities and the constant availability of oil. For scientists involved in geotechnical monitoring efforts of long-term energy storage facilities, as well as the construction and maintenance of new storage facilities, electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) can be extremely valuable tools.

Monitoring the Storage Facilities of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves

In 1980, the Department of Energy designated Sandia National Laboratories as the geotechnical adviser for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Sandia was responsible for storage site characterization, cavern and well development and cavern integrity monitoring. While Sandia’s work on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve now spans more than three decades, researchers were recently asked to prepare a comprehensive report on whether or not it was justifiable for the Department of Energy to extend the life of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve into the future.

When labs undertake long-term projects like this one, ELNs are an ideal tool for information storage because it is easy for researchers to locate storage facility monitoring data from years before, without having to search through the pages of paper lab notebooks. Also, for sensitive projects that involve multiple high-priority organizations, ELNs provide an easy way to share confidential information.

In the report released by Sandia in May 2017, it was concluded that extending the life of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves was a justifiable decision. To come to this conclusion, the researchers needed evaluate the reserve’s ability to be drawn down. Specifically, they estimated the number of potential drawdowns for each of the 62 caverns in the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. They used computer simulations that could model factors affecting drawdown capabilities, including cavern shape, interactions with other caverns, salt creep, and well leaks.1  Not only do their results highlight the strategic importance of maintaining the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, but they also suggest that additional energy storage facilities can help to preserve the energy independence of the United States in the future.

Establishing Long-Term Oil Storage Sites Outside of the Gulf Coast Region

The four long-term petroleum storage facilities are all located close to the Gulf of Mexico. The Bayou Choctaw and West Hackberry storage sites are both in the state of Louisiana, while the Big Hill and Bryan Mound storage sites are located in Texas. However, energy companies have recently begun using the process of leaching to create salt caverns in bedded salt formations in caverns in other regions of the United States as well.

Although these manmade caverns are more costly to develop than natural caverns, they may still be less costly in the long run than aboveground tanks and hardrock mines. They also provide a greater degree of security, and locations can be chosen strategically with the goal of cutting down fuel transportation time.2 ELNs make it easy to store and share the data from  computer models of potential storage sites, as well as financial data on transportation options and construction cost estimations. This can help streamline the decision-making process for energy companies that are considering investing in the construction of long-term oil storage sites outside the Gulf Coast region.

Long-Term Storage Options for Natural Gas

As with petroleum, it is also important for the United States to ensure the long-term availability of natural gas. Right now, there are three long-term underground storage options available for natural gas:

    • Depleted gas or oil fields. These otherwise useless sites are currently the most common underground storage facilities for natural gas, given their widespread availability and the convenience of their existing infrastructure.

 

  • Salt caverns. As with petroleum, scientists are now using salt caverns to store natural gas underground. Most of the facilities utilize underground salt domes along the Gulf Coast, but industry leaders are also beginning to construct salt caverns in other regions of the country, since they are less costly in the long-term than other storage options.
  • Natural aquifers. The geology of natural aquifers is similar to that of depleted gas fields, so they can be a useful substitute, especially when they are located near population centers.

Each one of these long-term natural gas storage options has different physical characteristics that must be considered, such as the porosity, permeability and retention capability of the site. Energy companies must also consider economic factors—like site preparation, maintenance costs, cycling capability rates and ease of deliverability—when gauging the feasibility of a potential natural gas storage site.3 With ELNs, researchers can quickly transfer relevant data to decision-makers within the company so that the scientific issues and economic considerations can be properly weighed when making choices about the establishment and maintenance of long-term natural gas storage facilities.

BIOVIA Electronic Lab Notebooks offer a wide range of benefits for researchers conducting long-term projects in the oil and gas industry. Contact us today to learn more about ELNs and out other innovative offerings!

  1. “Strategic Petroleum Reserve taps Sandia expertise in salt,” May 15, 2017, https://share-ng.sandia.gov/news/resources/news_releases/petroleum_reserve/#.WW3gtojyvIV
  2. “SPR Storage Sites,” 2017, https://energy.gov/fe/services/petroleum-reserves/strategic-petroleum-reserve/spr-storage-sites
  3. “The basics of underground natural gas storage,” November 16, 2017, https://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/storage/basics/