An optimist says the glass is half-full, a pessimist half-empty, whereas a good engineer says that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be. There has been much debate over the years about the relative functionality, application and even necessity of proppant in delivering effective hydraulic fractures. Often these debates have been directly linked to major changes in core frac applications, more recently in the dominant North American onshore unconventional market. However, the debates have all too often used broad or unclear brush strokes to describe shifting fracture requirements. Meanwhile, the developing oilfield in the rest of the world resides in more permeable areas of the resource triangle, great care must be taken to ensure that conventional lessons hard learned are not lost, but also that unconventional understanding develops.

Over recent years there have been many debates and publications on the relative value of the use of proppant (and associated conductivity), although the true question was about appropriate fracture design in different rock/matrix qualities and environments. Certainly, the vast majority of fracturing engineers appreciate the difference between continuous proppant-pack conductivity and other techniques, such as infinite conductivity, pillar fracturing or duning designs. However, there is increasing evidence that conventional fracturing is suffering from populist attitudes, leading to ineffective fracturing. Additionally, and just as impactful, that unconventional fracturing continues to rely on the lessons learned and physics derived directly from our conventional experience but applying this in an entirely different environment.

Primarily, the main concern is with the transfer of recent lessons learned and techniques utilised in one rock quality and environment, to an entirely different scenario, resulting in the misapplication, reduced IP30, poorer NPV or reduced long term EUR and IRR. Examples will be referenced where appropriate proppant selection and frac design can be the difference between success and failure. Fundamentally, we have not sufficiently developed our understanding of the role of proppant and conductivity, for application in unconventionals and thereby rely far too much on our previous conventional thinking. While at the same time we are exporting often inappropriate unconventional populist practice into very conventional environments, thereby potentially achieving the abhorrence of the worst of both worlds.

This paper will describe and address scenarios where appropriate engineering selection, rather than popularity-based decision making, has resulted in a successful outcome. It will also attempt to ensure that we show the importance of studying your rock, in anticipation of engineering design, and that this should be a key consideration. The paper will also suggest that as an industry we urgently need to address our approach to consideration of conductivity, placement and importance and ensure that unconventional knowledge and learning progresses with a beneficial outcome for all.

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