The shale industry has changed beyond recognition over the last decade and is once again in rapid transition. While we are unsure about the nature of innovations to make US shale ever more competitive, we are certain that the current downturn will drive a further reduction in $/BO – the total cost to lift a barrel of US shale oil to the surface. As a result of an increase in scale and industry efficiency gains, the all-in price charged by service companies to place a pound of proppant downhole has come down from more than $0.50/lb in 2012 to about $0.10/lb today. In this paper, we discuss what components have contributed to this reduction to date and use several case studies to illustrate the potential for further cost reductions.

The authors used FracFocus data to study a variety of placement and production chemicals for about 100,000 horizontal wells in US liquid rich basins, including the Williston, Powder River, DJ, Permian basins, as well as SCOOP/STACK and Eagle Ford. All chemicals used were averaged on a per-well basis into a gallon-per-thousand gallons (gpt) metric.

In the paper, we first provide an overview of trends by basin since 2010 for these chemical additives. Then, we perform Multi-Variate Analysis (MVA) to determine if groups of these chemicals show an impact on production performance in specific basins or formations.

Finally, through integration of lab testing (on fluid systems and proppants), a liquid-rich shale production database and FracFocus tracking of industry trends, the authors developed a list of case histories that show modest to significant reductions in $/BO.

In this paper we focus on proppant delivery cost – the cost to place a pound of proppant in a fracture downhole, where it can contribute to a well's production for years to come.

The last decade saw a 10-fold increase in horsepower, a 20-fold increase in yearly stages pumped and a 40-fold yearly proppant mass increase. One result of this increase in scale, was a gain in efficiencies, which led to an average 3-fold fracturing cost decrease to place a pound of proppant downhole. We will document this trend in detail in the paper.

A significant industry trend over the last decade has been a "viscosity for velocity" trade. The change to smaller mesh regional proppants, in combination with an increase in pump rates on frac jobs in the US, has allowed fluid systems to become more "watery". At the same time, the industry is moving from guar systems to polyacrylamide-based systems that exhibit higher apparent viscosities at low to ultra-low shear rates. These newer High Viscosity Friction Reducer (HVFR) systems show superior proppant carrying capacity over traditional slickwater fluid systems. Regained conductivity testing has shown that these HVFR systems are generally cleaner for fracture conductivity than guar systems.

Along with changes to base chemistry, a 2- to 5-fold increase in disposal costs and an overall "green initiative" over the last decade have resulted in a push to maximize recycled water usage on these HVFR jobs. These waters can be in excess of 150,000 TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) which present challenges across the board when designing a compatible fluid system that fits the needs in terms of viscosity yield, scale inhibition and microbial mitigation etc. – all while keeping costs low.

Specialty chemicals, such as Hydrochloric Acid (HCl) substitutes that have similar efficacy as HCl but significantly lower reactivity with human skin, have helped significantly to improve operational safety around previously-categorized hazardous chemicals, and have helped reduce cost and improve pump time efficiency.

Measurement of bacterial activity during and after fracture treatments can help with the best economic selection of the appropriate biocide. These simple measurements can help further reduce what is spent on the necessary chemical package to effectively treat a well.

This paper provides a holistic view of fluid selection issues and shows a real-data focused methodology to further support a leaner approach to hydraulic fracturing.

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