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FOSSIL FUELS: OIL, GAS and COAL Section 1 Overview
 Author  Dr Robert Breen
Quogen Consulting Limited
 Last Updated  21 December 2012
 Status  Peer reviewed document
 Download Landscape  PDF 811 KB

Section :

Characterisation of the field

Oil and gas production from the UK continental shelf (UKCS) contributed over 32 billion to the balance of payments operations (2010 data1,2) with further contributions from oil field goods and services (c. 6 billion) and electricity/gas/water supply activities ( 20 billion).

In addition to exploration and production activities, the oil and gas sector extendsto refining, transmission and distribution of gas, power generation and fuel for transportation. The oil and gas activities are integral with and a major component of the UK economy. The UK has hundreds of businesses in the oil and gas supply chain and is also the base for a few global operators (e.g. BP, Shell, BG Group). The global nature of oil and gas pricing ensures that the sector faces both domestic and international competition.

RD&D expenditure in the oil and gas sectoris several billion dollars per annum (although for most oil and gas majors the R&D budget represents less than 1 of revenues). Funding routes are through in-house research centres, partner schemes with government bodies (BIS, DECC, TSB etc.) and industry partnerships such as Industry Technology Facilitator (ITF), who issue funding calls for new research proposals (see

Oil and gas research covers a wide range of science and engineering disciplines. Although a reasonably mature industry sector, oil and gas research encompasses both fundamental studies (mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and geosciences) and technology developments. The field is characterised by interdisciplinary research topics or themes, often organised in multi-disciplinary research centres.

Within the industry, activities are generally viewed as part of the three broad portions of the supply chain of upstream, mid-stream and downstream operations. The upstream focus is on exploration and production activities and mid-stream covers refinery and bulk transportation. Within the downstream segment, activities include, fuel consumption, combustion, and the distribution of gas and fuel products to a variety of markets.

The research landscape for Oil and Gas in relation to the Research Atlas is presented as a single sector of the Fossil Fuel research areawith sub-topic categories: Enhanced oiland gas production; Refining, transport and storage of oil and gas; Non-conventional oil and gas production; Oil and gas combustion; Oil and gas conversion; Other oil and gas.

The UKERC Research Register records grant-funded activity divided into research types of: Basic and Strategic Research; Applied Research and Development; and, Final Stage Development and Demonstration.

Fundamental research projects address aspects of the oil and gas supply chain from the performance of hydrocarbon reservoirs to the combustion of fuels in the transport, industrial and domestic market sectors.

Research inputs to the area of Enhanced Oil and Gas Production are dominated by geosciences (Earth Systems, geology, geochemistry etc.) and petroleum engineering in the study of hydrocarbon reservoirs.

Much of the research activity is underpinned by mathematics, physics and computing with the need for measurement and modelling developments in allareas.

The field of Engineering and Technology contributes to the other sub-topic categories with chemical and mechanical engineering disciplines featuring widely with research topics of fluid flow, petrochemical processing and combustion.

In addition, energy efficiency and environmental themes are pursued in relation to Oil and Gas Combustion.

A particular feature of the Oil and Gas field is the number of institutions offering post-graduate taught courses specialising in petroleum industry subject matter. This reflects the size and international nature of the industry.

Research Challenges

The underlying demand for energy in the emerging economies, and energy efficiency in the mature economies, subject the oil and gas industry to policy and legislative factors as governments seek to develop economic strategies, secure and diversify energy supplies and address environmental issues.

Oil and gas accounts for about 75 of the UK energy supply and the UKCS is still producing a considerable portion of the supply. The UKCS reserves are in decline and the importation of gas, and to a lesser extent oil, are forecast to increase. To counter this, new reserves are required from a number of activities, namely: increasing the recovery from existing fields; developing new discoveries which have yet to be properly appraised; addressing resources which are not technically or economically possible currently; and exploring for new fields in deep sea locations. In addition, shale oil/gas production presents an opportunity to re-establish national hydrocarbon self-sufficiency.

Research in geosciences and field production technology lead to a better understanding of field performance and can improve the economic viability of marginal hydrocarbon resources. Reservoir characterisation and modelling expertise are critical for these developments. Such resources obtained from more technically challenging locations would have a greater reliance on new materials and equipment for remote operation and require a reliable instrumentation and control system. Deep water locations set a challenge for sub-sea production with water separation and waste management, sub-sea power and product extraction by means of longer sub-sea collecting pipelines.

Globally, there is a growing concern about fuel diversity and security of supply, particularly with regard to oil and natural gas. At the same time, global demand for oil has been increasing significantly due to the economic development of China and India. The continued reliance on oil and gas within (western) developed economies drives research in alternative/renewable energy sources and energy efficiency (in supply and fuel use) to combat price effects and climate change risk.

Security of supply is also a strong driver for the development of domestic shale oil/gas resources that could, according tosome forecasts, re-establish national energy security with low-cost supplies albeit undermining the development of renewables in market terms and raising additional environmental issues.

Shale gas exploitation relies on the techniques of horizontal drilling and fracking (the fracturing of the hydrocarbon bearing strata). The potential environmental impact of this activity may stimulate research topics in the reservoirbehaviour modelling, induced seismology and water treatment in the production process. In addition, maximising recovery of hydrocarbon or other useful resources (such as helium) from small production streams may stimulate new technology development in gas processing.

The Oil and Gas industry in the UK relies on many science and engineering disciplines to maintain safe, reliable and efficient operations that can sustain its competitive position worldwide. RD&D is required from fundamental to near market demonstration and proving levels.

For basic and applied strategic research, the range of disciplinary inputs includes physics, chemistry, mechanical and electrical and civil and marine engineering, materials science, combustion and chemical engineering and mathematics. Modern oil and gas operations are data intense and the nature of technological applications requires that developments are supported by multi-disciplinary research.

Much of the research in the oil and gas sector has traditionally been undertaken by the companies themselves and with a strong commercial focus on applied research and product and equipment development. There is industry interaction with many universities, on many basic research topics, and a major challenge for the research community is to position their skills and expertise to expand their opportunities in applied research for this industry sector.

1 As reported by Oil & Gas UK,, download August 2012
2 Original data can be found at Office of National Statistics website,

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