Strathclyde University researchers are working on a simple and cheap oil-drilling technique that could extend the production lifespan of North Sea oil wells.
Scott MacGregor and Steve Turnbull of Strathclyde's Institute for Energy and Environment are leading pioneering research into plasma-channel drilling, an addition or even an alternative to conventional rotary drilling.
The research has won £146,000 under Scotland's proof-of-concept funding, which aims to bridge the gap between academics' ideas and industrial development. The oil industry task force estimates that there may still be 1.3 billion barrels of oil in existing North Sea reservoirs that cannot be recovered economically with today's technology.
The Strathclyde drilling technique uses high-voltage pulses that fracture and fragment the rock.
Dr Turnbull said: "You don't have to rotate the drill. All you have to do is apply pressure against the rock face. We're not aiming to replace rotary drills, but potentially it can offer a cost-effective way for the oil and gas industry to go into existing wells and try to improve their efficiency or lifespan. It would cost too much to use a big drilling rig."
The Strathclyde technique also creates holes only a few inches in diameter, which cause much less damage to the seabed than today's methods.
Professor MacGregor predicted that the new technique would also be used for exploration.
"As well as the increase in recovery from existing wells, the benefit to the Scottish economy will be even greater if the estimated 4.3 billion barrels in new reserves can be fully exploited."