Matt Mantell wasn’t always sure that completing horizontal wells with wet sand was going to be as efficient as using smooth-flowing dry sand.

But after proving how well it does work, and how much money it saves, the completions engineering advisor with Chesapeake Energy said the plan to use wet sand at every possible opportunity is moving “full-speed ahead.”

Wet sand represents a new trend in the US shale sector that has spread from operator to operator. After the sand is washed free of unwanted particulates at the mine, it has historically been dried before being delivered to a wellsite.

Wet sand is instead loaded straight from decanting piles. The gas-burning dryers are left off.

Chesapeake’s numbers show that by using wet sand instead of dry sand, the operator saves about $11/ton. On a 10,000-ft lateral using 3,600 lb/ft, this translates to a savings of nearly $200,000, or 2% off the total well cost. In framing the impact of these reductions, Mantell said, “It’s right there with the type of shift we’ve made over the last few years to more regional sands. You’re looking at an opportunity to continue reducing the logistical cost, the trucking cost, from the mine to the wellsite.”

Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake emerged from bankruptcy protection in February and is looking forward to leveraging the shale sector’s latest cost-saving evolutions in its renewed drive to become a low-cost shale producer.

While this is easier said than done, wet proppants appear to be low-hanging fruit.

As Chesapeake’s example demonstrates, successful adoption involves minimal trial and error. It also shows that the outlook for this trend will be bolstered by its lower energy inputs, which means wet-sand wells can boast slimmer carbon footprints.

Gusto may be far from peaking, too. Chesapeake predicts that future mines will become small and mobile, further lowering capital costs.

Learning the Ropes

The operator’s first go with wet sand came in August 2019 during a refracturing operation at the Eagle Ford asset it acquired that same year in its purchase of WildHorse Resource Development. The trial in southeast Texas involved pumping wet sand into just a few stages, but it offered a low-risk opportunity to work through the hiccups that wet sand can introduce.

One relatively minor issue discovered early on involved getting the wet sand to load evenly onto the conveyer belt that feeds the blending unit. The clumpy nature of wet sand led to a few big slugs of it hitting the blender all at once, making it difficult to meter just how much was going in.

The issue was quickly worked out in part by simply paying greater attention to how the sand was loaded and unloaded, with the focus on spreading it out as evenly as possible.

Adam Hoffman, a lead completions engineer in Chesapeake’s Eagle Ford asset, said the biggest learning, though, was that there is a “real fine line” between sand that is wet and sand that is too wet. If the moisture content As Chesapeake’s example demonstrates, successful adoption involves minimal trial and error. It also shows that the outlook for this trend will be bolstered by its lower energy inputs, which means wet-sand wells can boast slimmer carbon footprints.

Gusto may be far from peaking, too. Chesapeake predicts that future mines will become small and mobile, further lowering capital costs.

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