The oil and gas industry is a powerful force in the Last Frontier's economy--and decisions made by the industry, from choosing materials for construction to understanding the quality of oil and how to extract it, are often derived from testing conducted in Alaska labs or in the field.
Charles Homestead, the environment, health and safety general manager for the Alaska division of SGS, explains that the needs of the oil and gas industry have changed since the company formerly known as Chemical and Geological Laboratories of Alaska was founded in 1964.
The organization, which was absorbed by the multinational SGS, started supporting the oil and gas industry in Alaska early in its history, providing geological testing for the Swanson River gas field.
"In that stage, there was a lot of core testing to determine the PMP [porosity and permeability] of the material," Homestead says, noting that before tracking was commonplace the PMP of the substrate around an oil or gas site determined its potential for development. "There was a lot of testing to identify how we could move fluids and gasses through the formation to get them to wells."
Another test that the industry relied on--and continues to rely on--is the American Petroleum Institute (API) gravity test. This lab test measures how light or heavy the petroleum is compared to water.
"We would do the initial testing on those crude oils for identifying how low the viscosity was and how high API gravity was," Homestead says. "So they could start modeling how much they can extract out of the formations, and that's what maybe would determine if they would put another well and in that area."
The composition of the crude oil is also tested at early stages of development to determine its British Thermal Unit (BTU) value, which allows companies to determine how valuable the oil is. Homestead explains.
At the early stages of some wells, lighter oil can easily be pumped out. However, as a site matures, it becomes more and more difficult to extract oil, requiring additional steps--and more lab work.
Often, after a site has been pumped, it's flushed with gas deposits to push the oil into the wells.
"Even further into production, they'll start pumping water down there to push new oil. Using water, that involves a lot more chemistry," Homestead says. "Once you start taking water from a different source and pumping it down into the well around it and start mixing it in there, you can have chemical reactions that...