Slickwater-sand fracturing design is widely employed in Marcellus shale. The slickwater- sand creates long skinny fractures and maximizes the stimulated reservoir volume (SRV). However, due to the fast settling of sand in the water, lots of upper and deeper areas are not sufficiently propped. Reducing sand size can lead to insufficient fracture conductivity. This study proposes to use three candidate ultra-lightweight proppants ULWPs to enhance the fractured well performance in unconventional reservoirs.

In step 1, the current sand pumping design is input into an in-house P3D fracture propagation simulator to estimate the fracture geometry and proppant concentrations. Next, the distribution of proppant concentration converts to conductivity and then to fracture permeability. In the third step, the fracture permeability from the second step is input into a reservoir simulator to predict the cumulative production for history matching and calibration. In step 4, the three ULWPs are used to replace the sand in the frac simulator to get new frac geometry and conductivity distribution and then import them in reservoir model for production evaluation. Before this study, the three ULWPs have already been tested in the lab to obtain their long-term conductivities under in-situ stress conditions. The conductivity distribution and production performance are analyzed and investigated.

The induced fracture size and location of the produced layer for the current target well play a fundamental effect on ultra-light proppant productivity. The average conductivity of ULWPs with mesh 40/70 is larger and symmetric along the fracture except for a few places. However, ULWPs with mesh 100 generates low average conductivity and create a peak conductivity in limited areas. The ULW-3 tends to have less cumulative production compared with the other ULWPs. For this Marcellus Shale study, the advantages of ultra-lightweight proppant are restricted and reduced because the upward fracture height growth is enormous. And with the presence of the hydrocarbon layer is at the bottom of the fracture, making a large proportion of ULWPs occupies areas that are not productive places.

The current study provides a guidance for operators in Marcellus Shale to determine (1) If the ULWP can benefit the current shale well treated by sand, (2) what type of ULWP should be used, and (3) given a certain type of ULWP, what is the optimum pumping schedule and staging/perforating design to maximize the well productivity. The similar workflow can be expanded to evaluate the economic potential of different ULWPs in any other unconventional field.

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