The Bakken Shale is one of the largest, unconventional crude oil plays in the United States covering as much as 25,000 sq miles in the Williston Basin. The formation underlies portions North Dakota and Montana and is found at depths ranging from 9000ft to 10,500ft. Reserve estimates vary but the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has calculated risked undiscovered resources of up to 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil and bbl/cu ft equivalent using current technology. At this time the field is being developed with single, dual and triple-leg horizontal wells with laterals extending 4500ft to 9500ft into the formation.

However, drilling activity in the area has fluctuated as a result of changing oil prices. Accordingly, reducing overall operation costs is essential to the economic feasibility of each drilling project. Because of the significant impact on drilling costs, the correct selection and utilization of drilling equipment including bits, drilling fluids, hydraulics and downhole tools is paramount. To optimize operations, a holistic approach was adopted to create a drilling "road map" utilizing several application software systems. These software tools enable engineers to envision the specific drilling environment and tool/BHA interaction before the bit goes in the hole.

A recent Bakken project included expert drill bit selection, rock mechanics analysis, shock studies, drilling fluids and hydraulics optimization. The directional well plan was optimized with wellbore simulation software. In order to circumvent deficient options prior to and during actual drilling operations, multiple scenarios are simulated using a collection of detailed geological and offset drilling information. These results were studied, analyzed and assessed as the optimum drilling solution prior to submitting them to the operator. Finally, the service provider monitored and implemented the recommended engineered solutions.

The initial results were encouraging: Drilling days on Well 1 were reduced by 30% which represents a cost savings of $572,000USD while achieving the drilling target and delivering a high-quality wellbore. Building on this initial success, second and third wells confirmed the value of holistic optimization saving the operator 13 days ($676,000USD) and 16 days ($832,000USD) of rig time respectively.

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