Crisman Institute on path to new directions in research

The Crisman Institute for Petroleum Research, a well-established research program within the Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University, is partnering with another research center at Texas A&M to further new research directions needed by the petroleum industry.

The Crisman Institute for Reservoir Management was established in 1984 by a private donor endowment from Wayne and Ruby Crisman to further research efforts within the Department of Petroleum Engineering. 

The original purpose of the Crisman Institute was to get oil and gas companies to bring problems and data to the faculty and students, so industry and academia could work together to build better reservoir management plans. The institute functioned in this capacity for 20 years. In 2004, Dr. Stephen A. Holditch became the director and decided to invigorate the program. At his request, Schlumberger, Halliburton and Chevron each agreed to give a $1 million endowment to the institute, which was renamed the Crisman Institute for Petroleum Research. In addition, industry membership was offered to other companies, who joined Crisman to help the faculty focus on current important problems and to provide both data and mentoring to the graduate students. Holditch left the institute when he retired as department head in January 2012.

Image of Holditch-StephenHolditch, back with Texas A&M as a professor, is once more a part of the institute, this time serving as associate director, and the Crisman Institute is again on the verge of another leap forward. The institute is merging efforts with the Berg-Hughes Center (BHC) for Petroleum and Sedimentary Systems, a part of the Department of Geology and Geophysics within the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M.  This new Crisman-BHC effort will concentrate on a comprehensive analysis of shale reservoirs in order to further develop predictive geologic, hydraulic fracturing and reservoir models.

Though large in size, the remaining oil reserves in the United States are located in increasingly challenging reservoirs, necessitating the use of innovative techniques and creative thinking to manage them.

“It is not possible to optimize field development without combining geology, geophysics, and petroleum engineering to analyze data and predict production, reserves, and economics so management can make intelligent and informed decisions on how to proceed with field development,” said Holditch. “By combining Crisman and the BHC faculty and graduate students, we have the integrated team we need for solving the complex problems associated with developing shale reservoirs.”

In the petroleum industry, most problems are solved in multidisciplinary teams. In the Crisman-BHC 2016 research proposal, graduate students in the geosciences and graduate students in petroleum engineering will work together on academic teams using comprehensive data sets from shale reservoirs to develop new solutions, better understand basic mechanisms, and use the knowledge to build predictive models.

“Some university research is typically one faculty member with a group of graduate students working on problems of interest to the faculty member with little input from other faculty,” said Holditch. “I believe we will generate better solutions and train better graduates by having our faculty work together solving problems of interest to industry.”

The Department of Petroleum Engineering currently has a number of joint industry projects (JIPs) that bring together faculty with different expertise to solve problems of interest to the JIPs’ industry members. 

“The Crisman-BHC partnership is like a grand JIP with goals that will benefit industry once the objectives are achieved,” said Holditch.

There is no shortage of problems to be solved, especially in shale reservoirs. Successful research projects, such as the ones in the Crisman Institute, will generate as many opportunities as they do answers, benefitting everyone involved, especially students.

Industry will gain solutions to their problems, faculty will have challenging research for their students, and the partnership will turn out experienced graduates for hire by the industry. Current students working on the cutting edge research of shale reservoirs, will provide valuable papers in the form of theses, dissertations, peer-reviewed articles, and hundreds of conference papers.  It is possible that several patents could result from the work. However, a key asset produced by the students’ work will be the development of new software.

“The main goal of the 2016-2018 research plan is to develop predictive models for use by industry,” said Holditch. “We need to improve the fundamental science in our geologic, hydraulic fracturing, and reservoir models so they can be used to both match the production history and predict the future production performance more accurately than we can now.”

Most oil and gas companies developing shale reservoirs do not have a research center.  Some do, but even these larger companies see the benefit of working with faculty and students. In fact, most companies belong to several university research consortiums or JIPs. The competition to attract industry attention and funding usually comes down to a hard-earned reputation to deliver the best answers.

“The Crisman-BHC has to provide value to each company involved if they are going to continue to support our effort,” said Holditch.

The merged effort between the Crisman Institute and the Berg-Hughes Center should prove invaluable and has already drawn interest. Currently over 50 research proposals submitted by faculty are being reviewed to formulate the 2016 plan.  Once the best proposals have been identified and the plan formulated, it will go before the Crisman-BHC member companies for approval and the research will begin.

When asked what other plans were in the works for the future of the Crisman Institute, Holditch was open to the possibilities of other joint efforts.

“Industry will help us define the problems they see as important,” said Holditch. “It is very possible that other engineering departments, chemistry, physics, mathematics, or even business departments such as economics could be involved in the Crisman-BHC activity.”