The industry has constantly struggled to balance proppant supply with demand. With the increasing levels of propped fracture stimulation activity in horizontal-shale developments in North America, alternative solutions might need to be used if the desired proppant is not available to fit the completion timeframe. Operators must continue to drill and complete wells, and suitable proppant availability is key to the process when propped fractures are required to deliver commercial returns.

Multiple parameters determine proppant-selection criteria for a fracture completion, such as closure stress, Young's modulus (YM), Poisson's ratio (PR), reservoir pressure, hydrocarbon type, etc. As multistage fracturing in horizontal wells increases, the availability of adequate quantities of suitable proppants has become an issue. Deeper, hotter wells with higher closure stresses typically require man-made ceramics to deliver sufficient fracture conductivity under these extreme conditions. An alternative technology was applied in an Eagle Ford shale completion that provided an economic solution when man-made proppants were not available. An on-the-fly Surface Modifying Agent (SMA) was applied to natural quartz sand substrate and pumped under conditions that normally exceed the useful range of this proppant. An engineering methodology was implemented to determine the risks associated with “pushing the envelope” with this technology and assesses the probability of a successful commercial development.

The application of an onsite SMA to proppant during a frac job can provide operators with additional options when the desired proppant is not available. It also allows for varying degrees of flexibility during onsite job redesign and execution. This technology can help keep a completion program on schedule and add additional benefits related to sustained production. The application of an onsite SMA to natural-sand substrates can provide an efficient low-cost alternative to man-made proppant, especially during times of supply shortages.

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