After 1970, the technology of hydraulic fracturing began to quickly accelerate, especially as to the industry focus on fracture conductivity. We saw a transformation in our frac fluids as we moved away from crudes and thin water gels to higher viscosity emulsion systems, foamed gels, and even crosslinked gel systems that could deliver significantly more proppant as we chased after better fracture conductivity. Using these more viscous gels we moved to "Massive Hydraulic Fracturing" of tight gas sand formations. This grew to multi-million pound proppant placements as the age of crosslinked gels began to dominate most of the fracture stimulation landscape as we tried to place very long, highly conductive fractures. However, the decade of the 1970’s also had Claude Cooke showing us that sand was a very limited proppant for deeper wells, and then later showing that gel residue could seriously reduce insitu fracture conductivities! (Cooke 1973; 1975; 1976; 1977) During the early 1980’s North America experienced the greatest rig activity ever, but then the mid-80’s gave us the greatest crash the oilfield had ever seen! Fortunately, this also resulted in our industry laboratories having the time to upgrade testing equipment and procedures to "realistic" test conditions for evaluation of packed proppant bed conductivity. This meant longer testing times, high temperatures, and with exposure to frac fluids. This research would subsequently launch the search for better gel breakers and lower residue gels (which continues today).
Unexpectedly, in the 1990’s a few operators in tight sandstone applications in East Texas started re-inventing Slick Water fracs (WaterFracs), placing only 15-20% as much proppant as crosslink gel fracs, yet claiming equal or better overall economics. To add further consternation, George Mitchell found another application for WaterFracs and eventually showed the world that a hydrocarbon-source shale formation, the Barnett, can actually be a commercial producer itself. During the early 2000’s, the combination of long horizontals, and extreme multi-stage hydraulic fracturing (mostly using Waterfracs) turned the Barnett Shale into the launching pad of our present-day madhouse search for the next great shale play to chase.
It is clear that long horizontal completions and WaterFrac stimulation methods have played an important role in opening the door to economic success in the numerous "resource plays" (i.e. shales). In this paper we will investigate if WaterFrac treatments are violating or upholding (?) one of our most significant fracturing beliefs: Fracture Conductivity should be optimized. Until we moved to the ultra-low formation permeabilities, we would generally say we should try to maximize our conductivity, but with WaterFracs designs it often seems we may instead be minimizing it, and this will be discussed here.