Skip to main content

Bill Maddock, Director of Subsea Systems Institute

Student Spotlight: Clara Palencia

By: Claire Andersen


Doctoral student Clara Palencia earned a second place award in the Ph.D. category of the International Student Society of Petrophysicists and Well Lock Analysts (SPWLA) competition last summer for a paper on the properties of mudrocks, a class of sedimentary rock.

Under the direction of Dr. Lori Hathon, assistant professor of petroleum engineering, Palencia and a team of graduate students are conducting research on unconventional oil resources.

“There are a lot of things to do,” Palencia said. “It’s not an easy problem, and we don’t know a lot about these types of things. It’s relatively new to the industry, but this is where conventional oil and gas started, too.” 

Palencia studies characteristics and elements of mudrocks in order to understand their interaction with other unconventional geological formations. She has created three mudrock samples, choosing each element and fluid, and hopes to use this reconsolidation technique to create several more, controlling every element. She is now recording and analyzing how changing elements one at a time will change the makeup of the rock.

“One of the things we don’t understand (about unconventionals) is how much of these resources we have,” Palencia said. “In order to know that, we have to understand the porosity of the rocks; how much space we can fill with fluids, how easily the fluid is going to flow.”

She already has studied the samples’ reaction to both oil and gas saturation. By studying how these rocks react to elemental changes, Palencia said she will better understand of how much of a resource can be found in mudrocks.

She hopes her models she will be the basis for a better understanding of unconventional resources.

“That’s my goal, to create a strong base that people can use in the future,” she said. “I hope that in 20 years, our model will be the base.”

Before coming to UH, Palencia worked as a petrophysicist for BP for nine years. She decided to return to graduate school after her husband’s work brought them to Houston. Palencia says her return to academia and research has been a blessing, full of opportunities to be part of new and exciting research.

“We are in the right place, the right time and the right position to build something that people in the industry will use for a long time,” Palencia said. “It’s kind of an open and blank book, and a very important time to be in. This is it.”