Summary

Selecting appropriate proppants is an important part of hydraulic‐fracture completion design. Proppant selection choices have increased in recent years as regional sands have become the proppant of choice in many liquid‐rich shale plays. But are these new proppants the best long‐term choices to maximize production? Do they provide the best well economics?

The paper presents a brief historical perspective on proppant selection followed by various detailed studies of how different proppant types have performed in various unconventional onshore US basins (Williston, Permian, Eagle Ford, and Powder River), along with economic analyses. As the shale revolution pushed into lower‐quality reservoirs, the concept of dimensionless conductivity has pushed our industry to use ever lower‐quality materials—away from ceramics and resin‐coated proppant to white sand in some Rocky Mountain plays, and more recently from white sand to regional sand in the Permian and Eagle Ford plays.

Further, we compare early‐to‐late‐time production response and economics in liquid‐rich wells where proppant type changed. The performance of various proppant types and mesh sizes is evaluated using a combination of different techniques, including big‐data multivariate statistics, laboratory‐conductivity testing, detailed fracture and reservoir modeling, as well as direct well‐group comparisons. The results of these techniques are then combined with economic analyses to provide a perspective on proppant‐selection criteria. The comparisons are anchored to permeability estimates from production history matching and diagnostic fracture injection tests (DFITs) and thousands of wellsite‐proppant‐conductivity tests to determine dimensionless conductivity estimates that best approach what is obtained in the field.

Dimensionless fracture conductivity is the main driver of well performance because it relates to proppant selection thanks to the inclusion of the relationship of fracture conductivity provided by the proppant relative to the actual flow capacity of the rock (the product of permeability and effective fracture length), which is supported by the production analyses in the paper. The paper shows how much fracture conductivity is adequate for a given effective fracture length and reservoir permeability and then looks at the economics of achieving this “just‐good‐enough” target conductivity, either through less proppant mass with higher‐cost proppants or more proppant mass with lower‐cost proppants, as well as mesh‐size considerations.

This paper does not rely on a single technique for proppant selection but uses a combination of various data sources, analysis techniques, and economic criteria to provide a more holistic approach to proppant selection.

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