This article, written by JPT Technology Editor Judy Feder, contains highlights of paper SPE 199164, “Applied Learnings in Reservoir Simulation of Unconventional Plays,” by Raphael Altman, SPE, Roberto Tineo, SPE, and Anup Viswanathan, SPE, Schlumberger, et al., prepared for the 2020 SPE Latin American and Caribbean Petroleum Engineering Conference, Bogota, Colombia, 17-19 March. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

Reservoir simulation is valuable in understanding dynamics of unconventional reservoirs. Applications include estimating long-term production behavior, enhancing well-spacing and pad-modeling efficiency, optimizing completion and stimulation of horizontal wells, and understanding production drivers that cause differences in productivity between wells. In the complete paper, the authors revisit fundamental concepts of reservoir simulation in unconventional reservoirs and summarize several examples that form part of an archive of lessons learned.

Reservoir Simulation Applications in Unconventionals

Reservoir simulation plays an important role in many stages of unconventional reservoir field development. In the initial pilot phase, a calibrated reservoir simulation model can provide an indication of estimated ultimate recovery (EUR), which is advantageous given few wells with short production time. EUR evaluation with incorporated uncertainties is a key variable in asset evaluation and investment decisions.

During the ramp and development phases, reservoir simulation aids completion optimization by providing a link between completion parameters, such as cluster spacing and stimulation pumping parameters, and a well’s production. Extending this idea further, the integrated nature of reservoir simulation enables identification of production drivers and understanding of why wells are producing differently.

During the mature stages of unconventional reservoir development, well spacing and hydraulic fracture and pressure interference, together with refracturing, require advanced modeling techniques that can include a combination of hydraulic fracture simulation, 3D stress simulations, and advanced reservoir simulation.

Reservoir Simulation Modeling in Unconventionals

Unconventional reservoirs are heterogeneous across multiple scales and exhibit variations in production performance across wells. The production variation is influenced by a large variation in production drivers that simultaneously affect the production. Examples of these drivers include reservoir properties such as hydrocarbon-filled porosity, moveable hydrocarbons, matrix permeability, relative permeability and pressure/volume/temperature, completion properties such as stress-state and natural fractures, and stimulation (pumping) parameters. Reservoir simulation constitutes one of the best tools to understand the dominant production drivers because of the multidisciplinary data required to build simulation models for unconventional reservoirs.

Because of the orders of magnitude of difference in matrix permeability between conventional and unconventional reservoirs, pressure gradients from the sandface to the formation (pressure drawdowns) are larger in unconventional reservoirs and drainage radii are more likely to be smaller. Therefore, in the case of shale reservoirs, single-well models usually suffice except for the case of multiwell pads. Very fine grid cells (on the order of inches to a few feet) are used close to, and immediately surrounding, the perforation clusters, whereas in conventional reservoirs, coarser grid cells are used, especially in full-field models, even with local grid refinements.

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