Hess gift of $4.4M to boost UW energy research

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A multimillion-dollar corporate donation announced Friday will help scientists at the University of Wyoming take an extremely magnified look at the type of rocks that hold oil and gas deposits, university officials said.

State funding will match the $4.4 million donation from New York City-based Hess Corp. to the UW School of Energy Resources.

"We recognize that we have some brilliant minds at work at UW now. We want to add to that," Gov. Matt Mead said at the announcement in the state Capitol rotunda.

The money will go toward equipment to study oil- and gas-bearing rock at the nano scale, enabling people to see things smaller, even, than a virus — all the way down to objects and features measuring 1 nanometer, or one-billionth of a meter.

Looking that closely can help scientists better understand how oil and gas flows through rock. That, in turn, could help companies discover new ways to get oil and gas out of the ground, said Mohammad Piri with UW's School of Energy Resources.

"It is essential for us to perform multi-scale research to understand the physics behind oil and gas recovery techniques," Piri said after the announcement.

Equipment to be used, he said, will include a focused ion beam scanning electron microscope and a nano CT scanner. The university bought the equipment in December and plans to install it this spring.

Burgeoning global energy demand will only increase the need to exploit unconventional oil and gas deposits, such as shale oil and gas, in the decades ahead, said Hess' executive vice president and president for exploration and production, Greg Hill.

"One thing is very clear. Unconventional resources offer huge promise, as they represent the largest, single untapped oil and gas resource in the world," Hill said.

The world has roughly 1 trillion barrels of unconventional oil and gas deposits, he said.

"The bad news is with current technology, we can probably only recover about 10 percent of that," Hill said. "So technology is going to be really, really important to unlock not only that first 10 percent, but the next 10 percent and the next 10 percent."

Hill is a Wyoming native, UW graduate and member of the UW board of trustees.

Other donations from petroleum companies bring to $10.9 million committed to date for the School of Energy Resources' new Energy Engineering Research Facility, UW officials said.

Last year, the School of Energy Resources took a hit when Congress capped future payments under the federal Abandoned Mine Lands Program at $15 million per state. The program is supposed to reclaim former mines but the money often got used elsewhere.

That was especially the case in Wyoming, which has the biggest coal industry of any state by far but relatively few abandoned mines compared to eastern states.

Wyoming got more than $150 million in AML funding last year. The School of Energy Resources got $50 million of that amount.

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