Higher Gas Prices May Put More NRC-licensed Well-loggers to Work

While many may be fretting about rising gas prices, certain domestic industries are ramping up efforts to increase the supply of the nation’s domestic reserves. The oil and gas industry rely on many devices containing radioactive material in order to get the job done. The well-logging industry is at the front and center of those efforts.

Once a geologic deposit is identified as potentially having vast oil and/or gas reserves, these NRC licensees known as well-loggers are called upon to provide a detailed underground three-dimensional map of the deposit.

In order to create these 3D maps, well-loggers use a well-logging tool that can be lowered into holes drilled up to a few thousand feet below the Earth’s surface, in search of natural gas and oil reserves trapped below the land and water.

How does it work? The device houses thimble-sized sealed radioactive sources and detectors to determine what is underneath the ground. Depending on the element, the radioactive material emits gamma rays or neutrons into the rock or sediment below and then the radiation reflects off the rocks or water or oil or gas like ping pong balls. As that radiation bounces back, the detector calculates density and porosity.

The engineers use these measurements to identify the depth and width of the land beneath that will provide the optimal locations for oil and gas extraction. The oil and gas that they pull from these sites can then be used in the petroleum industry and in energy production, just to name a few. The technology has been used as far back as the late 1930s.

The earth and soil never becomes radioactive and does not remain radioactive after the sealed radioactive source is removed. There are multiple safety barriers to ensure the source sealed inside the well-logging tool is not compromised. NRC materials inspectors regularly inspect licensees to ensure they are safely storing and using nuclear materials in this way.

Jason Razo
Region IV

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

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