Are Staged Hydraulic Fracs Dead? And Other Provocative Questions

There is nothing more breathtaking to regard than a massive multi-stage hydraulic frac job while it is occurring. The scene itself is amazingly polarizing, and it represents the vexed nature of technological advances. Are they evolving so quickly that yesterday’s frac is already extinct? It is good to ask tough questions, and to discuss the issues with others (check out the EMD / DEG joint Hydraulic Fracturing GTW / May 21-23, Golden, CO).

There is no question that massive, multi-stage hydraulic fracs are evolving. New, exciting developments in hydraulic fracturing means that tomorrow’s frac jobs will be environmentally friendly, low-water, and very targeted. Innovation will rise in response to problematic economics at $2.50/mcf (which really translates to around $1.50/mcf after transportation fees and leakage are taken into consideration). New approaches are being developed to respond to problems with water supply and disposal.

The rapid pace of technological innovation assures us that the hydraulic fracturing technologies of today will bear little or no resemblance to those of 2 or 5 or 10 years from now. We can be assured that those who provide low-cost, effective solutions will be the winners. It has always been so and will always continue to be so.

This leads to the observation that we must look at what may be in store for us, just around the corner.

Here are a few “just around the corner” possibilities and questions that could lead to game-changing technologies and approaches:

Will geosteering as we know it, with mile-long horizontal stages, go away? Is the concept of long horizontal wells in resource plays defeated by radical heterogeneity? Will we reconsider directional holes that target sweet spots?

Can sweet spots in resource plays be found using the approaches we used in the past to find stratigraphic traps?

Are the barren areas within the resource plays too barren to bother with? Consequently should we be doing more to characterize sweet spots, and to start looking at them as stratigraphic traps? (building on the ideas in the previous question)

Can we avoid formation damage by using produced oil as a frac fluid? If so, what kinds of proppants should we use? Will the geomechanical properties and changes in temperature result in extreme paraffin problems if we try using produced oil for hydraulic fracturing?

Is transition zone dewatering causing strange and unforeseen volume issues as the fluids are re-injected into deeper formations? Does the dewatered zone collapse with the volume change? Does the injected well build up pressure and consequently undergo spontaneous fracturing?

Will purification of produced water ever be an economically viable option? Would the best place to start be in West Texas and in Egypt / Libya? Can new low-cost solar panels used successfully to accelerate evaporation and/or steam production?

What’s the next wave in imaging / visualization for reconnaissance and reservoir characterization.

What will we be doing remotely in the future? Where and how will robotics be more effective? Will we be using drones and more unmanned air vehicles for operations?

What is the next wave in mobile apps? What will you do with your tablet and smartphone?

How can we integrate the analytics being developed by IBM with the modeling used by neural networks? Will we be able to identify more useful attributes that will give more reliable predictions of porosity, permeability, reservoir fluids?

These are a just a few of the questions that come to mind when contemplating new directions.

There are many more – but you’re probably already begging me to stop with the questions (!) …

Please post your thoughts and responses.

Last 5 posts by Susan Nash

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