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Improving our ability to maximize the value of shale oil and shale gas will have profound implications for the future of energy. By gaining a better understanding of source rock, fluid migration and hydraulic fracturing, we will be able to evaluate petroleum systems more accurately and optimize production economics.

Eric Chaput


Producting shale oil and shale gas more efficiently

Shale plays account for an increasingly large share of oil and gas production worldwide with vast hydrocarbon resources representing hundreds of billions of barrels of oil equivalent.

Our Unconventionals R&D Program focuses on hydrocarbons that are trapped in their source rock – shale gas and tight oil. This source rock is termed “mature” because the organic matter it contains has been subjected to the pressure and temperature conditions needed to generate oil and gas.

Before we can tap the potential of other unconventional resources outside the United States, we need to optimize the economics of the related exploration and development operations. This is the challenge being tackled by this R&D Program, which is dedicated to providing the innovations needed to Total’s E&P in its strategic commitment to exploring for and extracting new resources, while also supporting Unconventionals projects already under way in Argentina and the United States and those liable to emerge elsewhere in the world.

Research into the mechanical stimulation of source rock by hydraulic fracturing will contribute to optimizing the development of tight gas resources as well. Tight gas resources are trapped in extremely low-porosity and low-permeability reservoirs and represent a significant Yet-To-Find potential for the E&P branch. Total is already active in this segment in Argentina, Venezuela, China, Russia and Algeria.

Two program priorities

We are directing our efforts at two main avenues of research, both of which are key to an optimal monetization of shale gas and shale oil:

  • Achieving a better grasp and better models of the processes involved in the generation, expulsion or retention of liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons in mature source rock;
  • Optimizing the economics of development projects through a more accurate mapping of sweet spots and improvements in well productivity.

Two R&D Projects

The Unconventional R&D Program is divided into two R&D Projects encompassing the full range of topics that will enable Total to select the most promising plays and the most attractive projects, and produce them efficiently.


Source Rock Fundamentals

To be able to predict which of the mature source rocks located around the globe will allow the most profitable production, we need major advances in our fundamental knowledge of mature source rocks.

We are therefore conducting an ambitious project focusing on deciphering the mechanisms of oil and gas generation and trapping in source rocks. It involves a large-scale experimental program aimed at establishing a detailed characterization of the different types of source rocks and understanding their behavior from the pore scale to the basin scale, in nearly in situ conditions. This approach should enable us to spearhead the development of a complete simulation chain designed to reproduce all the phenomena involved, from hydrocarbon generation within the source rock through to extraction. Milestones in the development of this simulation chain are:

  • Improving the models of hydrocarbon generation and expulsion at geological scales;
  • Optimizing models of fluids displacement by using tools able to simulate flows at the pore scale or even the molecular scale (molecular simulation);
  • Developing cutting-edge algorithms and solvers coupling reservoir simulation and geomechanical simulation, a step essential to ensuring high-quality models of Unconventional reservoirs.


Tight Oil Gas Shale

This Project aims to optimize the economics of shale oil and shale gas exploration and development. The profitability of these operations depends on our ability to identify very early in the appraisal phase, using as few wells as possible, the most attractive zones – the sweet spots – based on their geological properties, the fluids they contain, and their “receptiveness” to stimulation by hydraulic fracturing.

Improving the economics of our future development projects requires a reduction in the number of production wells, and we can do that by optimizing hydraulic fracturing. The goal is to increase the Stimulated Rock Volume (SRV) and enhance recovery from each well significantly. Our approach focuses in particular on:

  • Developing techniques for identifying sweet spots, the reservoir sections that exhibit characteristics conducive to the cost-effective development of our assets;
  • Optimizing hydraulic fracturing design by developing a scientific tool for modeling hydraulic fracturing in shale plays, i.e., one that can model the interactions between induced (hydraulic) fracturing and natural fracturing in rocks;
  • Improving the characterization of the SRV and the control of our hydraulic fracturing operations by microseismic monitoring;
  • Improving hydrocarbons recovery through the use of Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) techniques, with the prerequisite of gaining a more in-depth understanding of flow behavior at the nano-porous scale.

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