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SNEAK PREVIEW: New Tech, New Oil

by | Apr 4, 2019 | Monitor

Maximizing legacy fields and identifying new plays

Aerial view of the arctic Drilling Platform on Alaska’s North Slope.

US Dept. of Energy

Enjoy this first look at an upcoming oil and gas article by Isaac Stone Simonelli, which will be published in the May 2019 issue of Alaska Business, online at AKBizMag.com and in our Premium Digital Edition.

Technology developed over the last few years—and which continues to be developed today—is helping oil and gas exploration companies discover and access a wealth of new resources.

This technology ranges from ConocoPhillips Alaska’s steerable drilling liner and BP’s proprietary digital rocks technology program to Netherland-based Biodentify’s patented technology developed to analyze surface soil or seabed samples, recognizing otherwise undetectable hydrocarbon microseepage from prospective areas.

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Biodentify combines modern technology developments in its patented workflow to take advantage of microseeps: small amounts of gas that leak from a reservoir and make their way to the surface.

“[Microseeps are] too small to measure with any direct detection device. Biodentify has put a new spin on this, which has been made possible due to recent innovations and breakthroughs in DNA sequencing and machine learning,” Biodentify Director of Technology and Operations Chris Te Stroet says. “The overall workflow is protected with a patent. The lab work to extract bacterial DNA and the exact algorithm to identify the biomarkers are trade secrets. The database that contains the biomarker samples used for training and identifying the potential reservoirs is a collection of information for Biodentify use only.”

Biodentify’s carefully-guarded workflow was not possible ten or fifteen years ago, says Stroet. The company’s approach is effective because the sensors used are incredibly sensitive, albeit indirect, as they collect data from the microbial ecosystem in the shallow soil.

More than 340,000 different species of microbes can be found in soil, of which a small number (50 to 200) react to these microseeps of gas. Some microbes—that oxidize the gas—flourish while others find it toxic and die.

“We take incredibly detailed ‘fingerprints’ of the soil—DNA analysis of the microbial ecosystem—and compare this with a large database of samples with known productivity,” Stroet says. “Our machine learning algorithms, run on a very large supercomputer, find the small but critical differences in these microbes that tell us whether the new samples have seen ‘microseep’ or not, thus if they are above a reservoir or a dry area.”

Traditional geochemistry techniques that make use of microseep as an indicator for potential prospects typically search for and count the cultivated species of known microbes that oxidize hydrocarbons, providing ten to fifteen biomarkers, a much smaller number than can be deduced from the complete DNA fingerprint. Other companies use a material that, when left at a shallow subsurface for weeks, “collects” gas molecules, a direct indication for microseep. 

There are other innovative companies that use similar DNA-analysis technology, but they focus on post-drilling, analyzing cuttings to maximize reservoir performance, Stroet explains.


Read the whole story in the May issue of Alaska Business Magazine!

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The Corporate 100

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Alaska Business has been celebrating the corporations that have a significant impact on Alaska’s economy since 1993. At the time, the corporations weren’t ranked as the list didn’t have specific ranking criteria. Instead, the Alaska Business editorial team held long, detailed, and occasionally passionate discussions about which organizations around the state were providing jobs, owned or leased property, used local vendors, demonstrated a high level of community engagement, and in general enriched Alaska.

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