The modern hydraulic fracturing process in unconventional shales has relied mainly on the use of mechanical isolation techniques (frac plugs) for internal isolation in between multi-cluster perforated frac stages. Significant benefits exist if mechanical frac plugs can be successfully eliminated from well completions. Recent trends of increased lateral lengths and decreased stage spacing are driving up the number of stages per well and the desire to decrease cycle time between completion and production operations, drive the effort for finding an alternative to mechanical plugs.
This paper presents two case histories of CNX Resources’ wells that utilized various completion techniques to effectively stimulate the laterals without the use of mechanical frac plugs. These ‘plugless’ completions techniques were originally necessitated due to a problem well with a casing patch where standard plug-and-perf completions methods would have required the use of Mechanical Slim Frac Plugs (MSFP) and an undergauge bit for the drillout operation. These MSFPs are designed to pass through internal diameter restrictions and then set and seal properly inside larger diameters. However, after design evaluation, the use of MSFP for internal isolation was found to have some increased challenges associated with the removal of the plug and increased time spent during drillout operations due to the undergauge bit requirement.
Three different plugless completions techniques were selected and then evaluated as a replacement for mechanical frac plugs. Two plugless techniques included the use of a particulate diversion material known as polylactic acid (PLA). The other plugless technique required no particulate diversion material. Proppant tracers and gas tracers were used to evaluate the proppant distribution, cluster efficiency, fracture behavior, and gas returns from each of these techniques. Well productivity was compared to offset wells to quantify the overall success of the plugless completions versus standard plug-and-perf completions. Potential for numerous benefits including reductions in completions costs, operational risks, and cycle times exist with the implementation of plugless completions methods. This case study will lay a framework for operators and service companies to practice and/or evaluate different techniques in completing wells without the use of mechanical frac plugs for internal isolation.