Unconventional completions in North America have seen a paradigm shift in volumes of proppant pumped since 2014. There is a clear noticeable trend in both oil prices and proppant volumes – thanks to low product and service costs that accompanied the oil price crash in early 2015. As the industry continues to recover, operators are reevaluating completion designs to understand if these proppant volumes are beyond what is optimal. This paper analyzes trends in completion sizes and types across all major unconventional oil and gas plays in the US since 2011 and tracks their impact on well productivity.
Completion and production data since 2011 from more than 70,000 horizontal wells in seven major basins (Gulf Coast, Permian, Appalachian, Anadarko, Haynesville, Williston and Denver Julesburg basins) and 11 major oil/gas producing formations were analyzed to examine developments in proppant and fluid volumes. Average concentration of proppant per gallon of fluid pumped was used to understand transitional trends in fracturing fluid types with time. Production performance indicators such as First month, Best 3 or Best 12 months of oil and gas production were mapped against completion volumes to evaluate if there are added economic advantages to pumping larger designs.
In general, all major basins have seen progressive improvements in average well performance since 2011, with the Permian Basin showing the highest improvement, increasing from an average first-six-months oil production of 25,000 bbl in 2011 to 75,000 bbl in 2017. The Gulf Coast basin, where the Eagle Ford formation is located, has seen a 6-fold increase in proppant volumes pumped per foot of lateral since 2011 while the Permian and Appalachian basins hit peak proppant volumes in 2015 and 2016 respectively. In Permian and Eagleford wells, higher proppant volumes in general have resulted in better production up to a certain concentration. In Williston and Denver basins, most operators are moving away from gelled fluids, and reduced average proppant concentration per fluid volume pumped shows inclination toward hybrid or slickwater designs. While some of these observations are tied to reservoir quality, proppant volumes have begun to peak as operators have either reached an optimal point or are in the process of reducing volumes.
Demand for proppant is expected to nearly double by 2020. As oil prices continue to recover, well AFEs continue to increase, despite multiple efforts to improve capital efficiency. The need for enhanced fracture conductivity and extended half-lengths on EURs are been discussed by combining actual observed production data and sensitivities using calibrated production models. The industry is moving toward large-volume slickwater fracturing operations using smaller proppants, but he operating landscape is expected to see a correction when such designs become less economical.