Back in Jurassic times, Michigan was situated on the equator. Our beloved state resembled what is now modern-day Sydney, Australia, providing an abundant environment for coral reefs, warm weather and tropical climates. As the world turned and time passed, North America moved further away from the equator, and the vast coral reefs moved along with it.
This unique geological makeup means our state is a treasure trove for storing natural gas and makes us one of the best and technically advanced suppliers in the nation.
Matt Rowan, manager of reservoir engineering and geology for DTE Energy, remembers when DTE was the first company in the world to develop the cleanest and most effective way to inject and withdraw natural gas from these porous rock wells, or coral reefs. It was in the early 1990’s that DTE gained the expertise in the process for horizontal directional drilling and underbalanced coiled tubing.
“It was an exciting time to be part of the gas industry,” said Rowan, who was one of the first to drill. “These styles of extraction and injection ensured high performance in terms of volume and speed. Our company was at the forefront of technology that has been adopted by gas companies all over the world.”
These drilling processes minimize the disturbances to Michigan’s environment, reduce air emissions and increase flow rates to achieve optimal withdrawal or injection rates to help met natural gas demands.
“Michigan’s wells are bigger than most in the country. We have hundreds of acres of reefs that are very porous and connected,” Rowan said. “Structurally, they are very competent because they act like big caves and caverns that contain natural gas and allows it to move throughout the porous rock and are more accessible for customer demands.”
DTE has 220 active storage wells and reservoirs, and another 665 inactive wells across seven natural gas fields. When full, DTE has the capacity to store 680 billion cubic feet of natural gas safely. That’s enough to meet DTE’s residential natural gas consumption for more than 3.5 years.
These storage fields and wells helps DTE manage gas costs for customers by buying large volumes of gas at cheaper prices and storing them until they are need during the winter. Typically, 20 percent of all natural gas is consumed during the five-month winter heating season, and is supplied by the underground storage fields and networks.
“When demand is low, the price is low,” Rowan said. “Since our storage fields are so vast, we’re able to purchase gas at lower rates, and provide customers with the lowest price and security of supply for when demand is high.”
For Rowan, his job focuses on extracting core samples of the rock to test and understand the geological impacts, monitoring and maintaining the condition of the wells for optimized use and efficiency. He and the geological team core out portions of the reservoir and bring up to test the samples, and house them in a fish tank.
He also works with other industry peers to develop recommended guidelines and practices for natural gas storage. He co-chaired and authored the guidelines of the design, construction and operations to ensure the integrity of underground storage facilities around the world.
“It took years of work to document and ensure these guidelines were compliant with federal rules passed on gas storage,” said Rowan. “It was a large undertaking with more than 27 other people, but it means our gas reserves and supplies are protected and the industry is operating more safely to meet demands.”