JAN. 26, 2001

CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456, mstepanovich@csub.edu



Aera Energy donates major gift to CSUB Geology Department


Aera Energy has donated a major gift to California State University, Bakersfield's Geology Department that will provide a set of computer data for petroleum geology students to explore as they prepare for careers in the oil industry.

Aera donated a digital data set from the Belridge oil field in western Kern County to CSUB's Geotechnology Training Center that can be used for teaching and research.

"This data set is rather unique and important to us for two reasons," said CSUB geology professor Jan Gillespie. "One, it's a local data set, and two, it gives our students a chance to learn about petroleum reserves in diatomite reservoirs."

Kay Pitts, reservoir management geoscientist for Aera who coordinated the donation for Aera Energy LLC, said the data set was acquired over the past several years at a cost of about $7 million. The data set allows geologists "to interpret the subsurface geology," she said.

Gillespie said that diatomite "is a very unconventional type of reservoir that is common along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley but does not occur in many other areas of the country. The local petroleum companies are currently enjoying a great deal of success using new technologies such as directional drilling and steam flooding to economically extract hydrocarbons from these reservoirs. These reservoirs also pose unique problems such as land subsidence over producing fields."

Pitts said a diatomite reservoir is very unusual. "Usually oil is in sand," she said. "But this data set is for a reservoir where the oil is in diatomite, which is the same material in kitty litter. ... The diatomite has different geologic properties than sand. For example, in sand the highest possible porosity is 45 percent. In diatomite, it can be as high as 75 percent. So there's a different interpretation technique. It's different from everything else you deal with."

What that means is that diatomite looks something like tiny stacked glass balls, with each little ball containing a drop of oil. "It's made out of the shells of tiny prehistoric organisms," Gillespie said. "And it's loaded with oil."

Pitts said that diatomite exists throughout the Belridge field, but that Belridge also contains oil-producing sands, notably the Tulare sand.

"The diatomite discovery well was in 1911," she said. "The trick was getting the oil out. You have to fracture the formation to extract the oil." Frac'ing, as it is known, is a process where the oil-bearing formation is fractured, allowing the oil to flow to the well. Pitts said that production in Belridge from diatomite is 66,000 barrels a day, and from Tulare sands is 67,300 barrels a day.

"Diatomite is a challenge to deal with," Pitts said. "It's real different, unique."

It's uniqueness stems from the fact that it occurs almost exclusively in Kern County. In addition to Belridge, it is also found in the Cymric, Lost Hills and McKittrick fields, and some of the off-shore fields produce from diatomite. "But in Texas it doesn't exist," Gillespie said.

Gillespie said the data set's value to CSUB is that "it allows students to see what diatomite looks like in a well log. It also gives them a chance to see what the problems are with this formation and to look at reservoirs in general.

"This is the first time anyone has donated a local data set," she added.

In addition to using it for both undergraduate and graduate level petroleum geology classes, CSUB also plans to use it for continuing education classes for oil industry professionals.

"We are delighted to help CSUB," Pitts said. "Students working with this data set will be exposed to more so that when they graduate it will be easier for them to get jobs because have a broader skills set. It's for the students."

CSUB President Tomás Arciniega expressed his thanks to Aera for its generosity. "I can't thank Aera enough," he said. "This continues the wonderful support from the oil industry for our petroleum geology program. Coupled with previous gifts from Texaco, Landmark and Schlumberger-GeoQuest, this takes our petroleum geology program to a new level. It will give our students a real advantage when they enter the job market."

For those interested in learning more about CSUB's petroleum geology program, please call 661/664-3027.