NDSU CNSE Lab to Analyze Clay Samples from ND Oilpatch Counties

Fargo, N.D. – Scientists in a lab at NDSU’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) are analyzing materials that could eventually play a role in North Dakota oil exploration.

As part of a research agreement with the North Dakota Geological Survey (NDGS) in Bismarck, N.D., the Materials Characterization and Analysis Laboratory at NDSU CNSE is analyzing 198 clay samples to determine their composition and suitability for use as a component in hydraulic fracturing. The clays show early promise for potential use as a key material known as ceramic proppant, used in the fracking process to help keep fractures open. The fracking process is used to extract oil and natural gas deep within the ground in places such as the Williston Basin.

The MCAL lab at CNSE provides scientific expertise and a unique set of analytical capabilities and instruments not typically found in other settings. “The lab has excellent analytical equipment, a very good reputation for generating accurate results in a timely manner, and the lab personnel are easy to work with,” said Ed Murphy, state geologist for North Dakota.

Energy industry publications have referenced shortages of proppant. Results from the scientific study of the samples could shed light on whether North Dakota could eventually supply some of the proppant materials needed for oil exploration.

The clay, known as kaolinite, is found in some hillsides in western North Dakota. Researchers at NDSU CNSE will use x-ray fluorescence to determine which elements and how much of those elements are contained in samples from the various locations.  Out of the 198 samples, the scientists will also analyze 36 clay samples using x-ray diffraction to determine the amount of kaolinite, illite, chlorite and other substances that may be in the samples. The testing is expected to take approximately five months. The samples being tested at CNSE come from Adams, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Grant, Hettinger, Mercer, Morton, Slope, and Stark counties.

“The labs and scientific staff at NDSU CNSE have unique capabilities. We frequently partner with agencies and industry on projects,” said Philip Boudjouk, vice president for research at NDSU. “We’re glad to be able to provide such expertise that may be of future assistance to the state’s energy enterprise.”

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