WMU News

Research aims to boost domestic energy production

Dec. 3, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University has received a $1,033,475 U.S. Department of Energy grant to conduct research that will help the nation reduce its dependency on foreign oil.

The three-year project focuses on determining the most likely underground distribution of some of Michigan's best-producing oil and gas reservoirs, allowing these hydrocarbons to be extracted in more efficient and economical ways.

WMU was among a trio of state organizations to receive a share of nearly $4.3 million in grants announced Oct. 14 by the DOE. In announcing the grants, Acting Under Secretary David K. Garman said the awards promise to strengthen the nation's energy security by "investing in our future, enhancing our domestic energy production and reducing greenhouse emissions."

WMU's project involves studying major petroleum-bearing areas in the "Michigan Basin," a layer of sedimentary rocks about 2.5 miles deep that is centered just west of Saginaw Bay and extends into the eastern Upper Peninsula, northern and eastern Wisconsin, northeastern Illinois, northern parts of Indiana and Ohio, and the western extreme of Ontario.

The basin encompasses several hydrocarbon reservoirs--zones of porous rocks that act like "sponges," soaking up oil and gas that formed over millions of years as a large sea periodically flooded Michigan's early tropical landscape.

Dr. G. Michael Grammer, WMU associate professor of geosciences, is leading the project team. Grammer and his fellow researchers will begin by producing a critical summary of all available subsurface data on three of the Michigan Basin's most prolific hydrocarbon reservoirs.

Next, they will conduct a multifaceted geologic and geochemical study of the origins and evolution of the three reservoirs, providing important information about the quality and distribution of the hydrocarbons they contain.

The team will conclude its work by creating new and improved computer-based models in
3-D that will help predict the underground distribution of the hydrocarbons in these reservoirs, allowing the oil and gas to be extracted more efficiently and in larger quantities than normal.

"Only half a dozen universities in the nation can do this type of research, and there are probably less than 50 people worldwide--most employed by multinational oil companies--who have been trained to integrate the sophisticated technologies and approaches we'll be using on these types of rocks," Grammer says.

"The work we're doing will encourage smaller companies here and around the country to learn and use these cutting-edge tools. In addition, it will enable these companies to reduce the amount of drilling they do in sensitive areas like Lake Michigan, and to maximize the recovery of hydrocarbons from newly discovered reservoirs as well as increase the recovery of bypassed or stranded hydrocarbons in existing fields."

Grammer, who also is a research associate in WMU's Michigan Basin Core Research Laboratory, will work on the project with three Department of Geosciences colleagues, Associate Professor David A. Barnes, Professor Emeritus William B. Harrison III, and adjunct Assistant Professor Robb Gillespie. Several graduate and undergraduate students round out the project team.

"The Michigan Basin Core Research Laboratory was a tremendous asset in getting the DOE grant," Grammer says. "It's the preeminent facility in Michigan for research on the Michigan Basin and it houses the state's largest collection of subsurface samples and data from the basin."

That collection is a gold mine for researchers like Grammer, who notes that the Michigan Basin numbers among America's 25 "priority" basins as defined by the U.S. Geological Survey. These basins collectively contain 90 to 95 percent of the nation's known and undiscovered hydrocarbon resources.

For its part, Michigan has produced about 1.3 billion barrels of oil and 5.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas over the past 75 years, and in 2000, total wellhead value exceeded $952 million. But petroleum production has been declining steadily in recent years as the state's known oil fields are depleted.

"The United States imports 55 percent of its oil every day, yet we typically leave behind more than 60 percent of the oil in our domestic reservoirs," Grammer says. "Our new 3-D models will help turn that around. That's why the DOE is so interested in our work--if we better understand the distribution of reservoirs underground, we can extract more out of the reservoirs we already have instead of having to search for new deposits of hydrocarbons or to import increasingly more to satisfy our hydrocarbon needs."

Grammer came to WMU in 2002 after serving since 1997 as a senior research associate and technical advisor for Texaco and then ChevronTexaco. He also was a consulting specialist for four of the world's largest oil companies from 1987 to 1997 while on the faculty of the University of Miami, and a sedimentologist and geologist for Texaco from 1984 to 1987.

The carbonate specialist earned a bachelor's degree in geology from the University of South Florida, a master's degree in geology and sedimentology from Southern Methodist University, and a doctoral degree in marine geology and carbonate sedimentology from the University of Miami.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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