THE DAWN OF FOSSIL FUEL? WHAT’S NEXT FOR SUBSURFACE SOLUTIONS


IHR Director Associate Professor Dr Syahrir Ridha (right) with UTP researcher at the flow loop system for sand erosion and drilling mud simulationIHR Director Associate Professor Dr Syahrir Ridha (right) with UTP researcher at the flow loop system for sand erosion and drilling mud simulation

RENEWABLE energy has picked up steam in recent years but despite the inroads made in the development of renewables, unless energy consumption is drastically reduced fossil fuels will continue to be the main source of energy worldwide up to the year 2050.

But that doesn’t mean that the fossil fuel is or should be adopting a business-as-usual approach in its plans and operations.

Assoc Prof Dr Syahrir Ridha, Director of the Institute of Hydrocarbon Recovery (IHR) at Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP), says although economies around the world are making that shift towards clean energy, research and development activities in the fossil fuel with particular subsurface domain need to be intensified. This is where the IHR comes in.

One of the six multidisciplinary research institutes at UTP, the IHR focuses heavily on subsurface oil and gas. Its research priorities encompass subsurface imaging, exploration initiatives and improved recovery.

“The goal is to develop robust technologies to image the earth’s interior with greater clarity to enable better and more precise decision making, and to assist in subsurface energy exploration,” Syahrir says.

“In this transition period and against a landscape of rising costs and climate change considerations, improving recovery is key. To that end, the institute looks at solutions and technologies to optimise hydrocarbon production and carbon storage.”

In tandem with UTP’s overall research priorities, research and innovation activities at the IHR are geared towards supporting the oil and gas industry’s research and development (R&D) initiatives and business operations as well as addressing their pain points.

Some of the institute’s solutions and innovations to date include the development of a chemical for production enhancement, which addresses scaling issues, well stimulation and reservoir conformance that translate into improved oil production.

The institute is also assisting the national oil corporation in its exploration activity.

“We’re working with PETRONAS in investigating traces of microorganism from soil samples to detect the presence of hydrocarbons,” he said, adding that the institute can offer such solutions thanks to the expertise available.

“Our team of researchers include experts in geology, geochemistry, geophysics and petroleum engineering – a key point of differentiation - so we’re able to apply that multidisciplinary expertise to come up with innovative solutions.

“We are also equipped with comprehensive high-end laboratory facilities to support R&D and industrial operational issues such as on sand control management via sand retention test, formation damage test, return permeability test and matrix acidising coreflood test”, Syahrir added.

Subsurface Imaging (CSI) portraying the earth interior using advanced seismic technologySubsurface Imaging (CSI) portraying the earth interior using advanced seismic technology

What is perhaps one of the institute’s most exciting research is the use of fibre-optic distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) for geological carbon sequestration monitoring.

One of the pain points of carbon sequestration is that carbon dioxide that is pumped underground can escape, especially when injected into wells – raising the need for precise and efficient monitoring tools.

“The existing approach is by way of seismic activity, but this is expensive and time consuming and at the same time it does not guarantee optimal results can be achieved,” said Syahrir.

DAS on the other hand is a technology that enables continuous, real-time measurements along the entire length of a fibre-optic cable. Unlike traditional sensors that rely on discrete sensors measuring at predetermined points, with DAS the optical fibre is the sensing element, allowing acoustic signals to be detected over large distances and in harsh environments.

Used in pipeline monitoring, Syahrir said by leveraging on IHR’s geophysical expertise, DAS will offer a cost-effective and accurate monitoring of sequestered carbon.

Such a solution, he added, is timely given Malaysia’s aspirations as a carbon storage hub. “We’re also anticipating future needs and believe that as HSE requirements and regulations become more stringent monitoring will be key.”

Besides PETRONAS, the IHR’s client list includes several oilfield service providers, namely Setegap Ventures Petroleum, Neural Oilfield Services, Ova Chem, Rahman Hydraulic Tin, Noble GA Engineering Services, Titus Technologies & Services, MISE Energy, Elsa Energy, Eliis, Polygon Synergy Ventures and COSL Drilling Pan Pacific (Malaysia).

“In the last two years, the institute has expanded its business portfolio beyond oil and gas. It has conducted intensive research on mineral resource investigation with multinational oil and gas companies, JMG and several other prominent industry players, one of which is rare earth elements,” said Syahrir.

Likewise, he pointed out that the IHR’s expertise in subsurface object identification can also be deployed in various situations including disaster response and geohazard investigations. Following the landslide that occurred in Simpang Pulai in November, the IHR lent its expertise in locating the heavy machinery that has been buried, Syahrir disclosed.

IHR team assisting Bomba for Simpang Pulai landslide in identifying buried objects using 2D electrical resistivity induced polarisation survey.IHR team assisting Bomba for Simpang Pulai landslide in identifying buried objects using 2D electrical resistivity induced polarisation survey.

In the same vein, the institute’s expertise in subsurface imaging and identification can also be applied to groundwater investigations – thus creating a variety of business opportunities for the IHR and UTP. This has been translated from IHR revenue to more than RM20mil in 2022, which is about 185% year-on-year growth.

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