The Bakken was the only shale play in America to improve production efficiency per well during the pandemic, and that increase was substantial, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Drilling Productivity Report.
Other regions were steady, or declined slightly.
The DPR is produced monthly using several sources of information, including active rig counts, drilling efficiency, productivity of new wells, and production and depletion trends for previously producing wells.
The main oil-producing regions tracked in the report are the Anadarko, Bakken, Eagle Ford, Niobrara and the Permian.
Because of curtailment of new wells and the fact that some wells completed in 2020 have not begun reporting, EIA expects the curves to change slightly as unreported wells decrease and drilling activities return to pre-pandemic levels.
The Permian, meanwhile, was the only region whose production didn’t decline during 2020, according to the report.
The DPR regions represent 70 percent of total US crude oil production in 2020, an increase of 1 percent as a result of Permian production.
Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms, during his monthly oil production report, attributed the Bakken’s improved efficiency stats to longer, 3-mile laterals, some of which have initial production close to 1,000 barrels per day. Two-mile laterals have generally shown initial production stats of just 250 to 300 barrels per day.
“Part of that, of course, is better technology in terms of perforating and hydraulic fracturing,” he said. “They’ve actually learned to get the same results or better results with less water and less sand. And so, we have seen significant improvement in efficiency with 3-mile laterals.”
Another factor, Helms said, is that parent wells — the initial wells drilled in a spacing unit — don’t seem to be harmed by subsequent or child wells drilled in the same spacing unit in the Bakken, unlike what happens in other plays.
“The Bakken does just the opposite,” Helms said. “And I don’t, no one has an answer for why that happens. But what we actually most often see is the parent wells get better. When the child wells are drilled nearby and hydraulically fractured, they are somehow connecting the parent wells with new rock in the process of doing that.”
Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said such statistics help the Bakken make a strong case for capital investments.
“We think that the Bakken is obviously outshining just about all of the other investment opportunities, specifically in shale plays as well,” he told the Williston Herald. “And we think right now it’s kind of a little secret out there actually.”
Several issues have contributed to uncertainty for North Dakota oil, among them the fate of lake bed minerals under Sakakawea and the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“I suspect that the markets and others are going to begin to shine a little light on the Bakken’s productivity and great performance,” he said. “Despite not having a ton of rigs or completion crews, we’re still holding production flat, which means producers are bringing on more oil. Every day, more and more new oil with these wells that they worked past, so, obviously we have some good things brewing in the Bakken.”
Meanwhile, Ness said he is already seeing several new service companies and new workers enterivng the Bakken, and he believes, ultimately, the market will have space for Bakken production. That in turn will produce the economics that make increased pay and perks like housing bonuses feasible.
Monte Besler, a Bakken consultant known as the Fracin8tr said he thinks the efficiency gains reflect sound reservoir engineering that’s taking hold in a mature basin.
“The biggest contributor to improved production, particularly between the production of parent versus child wells, is the current trend to complete and fracture multiple wells on a single pad and spacing unit before putting any of them on production,” he said. “This helps prevent asymmetric fracture geometry, created by pressure sinks around older wells. Additionally, the pressure assist to the entire spacing unit, by injection of all the fracturing fluid, likely increases initial production rates for all the wells in the spacing unit, much like waterflooding pressure maintenance, but in advance of primary production.”