CAER researchers utilizing fly ash to increase Kentucky oil, natural gas production

Fly ash, a fine powder created from coal combustion
CAER Associate Director Bob Jewell (right) and Senior Researcher Anne Oberlink (left)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 11, 2024) — Researchers at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) are investigating a new technology that they hope will give new life to Kentucky’s oil and natural gas wells.

Funded by the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy, CAER’s Cementitious Materials Research Group, along with industrial partner Enhanced Solutions Services, have developed a method to utilize coal combustion products to recover and enhance production from pre-existing oil and natural gas wells.

The team is using fly ash, which is a fine powder created from coal combustion. CAER is a global leader in fly ash research, having spent decades creating new processes for fly ash utilization. The powder is used in numerous products, including cements and concretes.

Targeting oil and natural gas wells that have either been abandoned or are no longer in production, the CAER team is using ash fracking, a green technology paired with simple pumping equipment that creates a small operational footprint — a crucial factor in Eastern Kentucky topography.

In some cases, Enhanced Solutions Services has proven the rejuvenated wells have surpassed original production levels. Because fly ash is uniquely small and spherical compared to conventional sand, it does not settle quickly which eliminates the need for viscosity modifiers and results in simpler post-fracking clean up. The process uses less water and can reuse well water, mitigating environmental contamination.

“We are grateful to the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy for their support for this project,” said Bob Jewell, associate director of CAER’s Cementitious Materials Research Group. “This technology is showing great promise in giving new life to Kentucky oil and gas wells, while doing so in a much more environmentally sustainable manner.”

The project will collect fly ash from all of Kentucky’s coal burning facilities to evaluate their potential as a tool to enhance the productivity of oil and natural gas wells. CAER is aiming to demonstrate this technology in Eastern Kentucky.

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