New Prices, Challenges, and Opportunities in the Next Wave of Unconventional Resource Development
- Hans-Christian Freitag (Baker Hughes)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- February 2015
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 20 - 22
- 2015. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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A few months ago, discussions about sustainability in the oil and gas industry focused on the environmental effects of shale oil and gas development. While technology had enabled the “first wave” of the unconventional resource revolution that swept North America and propelled it toward energy independence, concerns about the usage of water and chemicals and the environmental effect of large numbers of wells signaled the need for new thinking to address these concerns.
How quickly times have changed! While safety and environmental sustainability remain at the top of operational considerations, the precipitous drop in global oil prices has added another key question to the mix: At what price do unconventional plays cease to be economically sustainable? Basin-related, break-even prices are now top agenda items at planning and budgeting meetings. No longer are we discussing efficient well delivery, improving completion effectiveness and fracturing designs, and increasing estimated ultimate recovery as changes we should make. These are changes we now must make to boost production, ensure sustainable cash flow, and increase booked reserves during the “next wave” of unconventional resource development.
The high oil prices of the past several years shielded the industry from inefficiencies that were “built in” to the first wave of unconventional development. Of the hundreds of thousands of shale wells that have been drilled and hydraulically fractured, many have been significantly less productive than expected, delivering typical recovery factors below 10%. Despite these less-than-optimal recovery factors, efficiency remained our industry’s key focus of innovation in the unconventional plays. In fact, factory drilling of a large number of wells and geometric fracturing along the lateral continues to represent the most popular approach to developing unconventional assets. But with oil prices below USD 50/bbl, is drilling and stimulating more wells at lower cost really the solution for long-term economic sustainability of unconventional plays?
As an industry, it is critical that we start thinking about these unconventional assets differently. Large numbers of unconventional wells drilled in the past 5 to 7 years are now reaching the low end of the production curve and are ripe for rejuvenation. And the industry has already seen some positive results from rejuvenation efforts including wellbore cleanup, installation of artificial lift, and restimulation. Many of these projects have been effective at generating production rates that equal or even exceed the well’s initial production with less rapid decline rates.
But we can still do better. By using brainpower rather than horsepower.
Embracing an approach to unconventional rejuvenation that is grounded in science and fact will let us drive production and efficiency simultaneously. The key is developing a workflow that creates value through enhanced understanding of the reservoir rock and the reasons behind poor well performance, and then executing on that workflow.
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