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New drilling, production in Eagle Ford surges

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Drilling in the Eagle Ford shale has dramatically increased in 2012, as producers have frantically turned away from cheap natural gas to production from regions that yield higher priced oils and other liquids.

The number of new wells drilled in Texas’ Eagle Ford shale more than doubled during the first three months of 2012, compared with the same period a year ago, according to Bentek Energy.

Operators started 856 new wells in the first quarter of 2012, compared with 407 in the same period a year ago, the energy market analysis firm reported.

There was also a record high number of 217 rigs active in the Eagle Ford during this month.

The increase in activity ratcheted up production of oil and other liquids, from 182,000-barrels-a-day in April 2011 to more than 500,000-barrels-a-day this month, according to Bentek’s analysis, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration highlighted on its website.

The Eagle Ford currently produces about 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

According to Bentek, Eagle Ford crude oil and liquids production was approaching the levels of the booming Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and eastern Montana during March 2012.

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Insight: Natural gas pain is oil’s gain as frack crews head to North Dakota

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By Selam Gebrekidan
NEW YORK | Mon Mar 19, 2012 4:43am EDT

(Reuters) – Collapsing natural gas prices have yielded an unexpected boon for North Dakota‘s shale oil bonanza, easing a shortage of fracking crews that had tempered the biggest U.S. oil boom in a generation.

Energy companies in the Bakken shale patch have boosted activity recently thanks to an exceptionally mild winter and an influx of oil workers trained in the specialized tasks required to prepare wells for production, principally the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing.

State data released this month showed energy companies in January fracked more wells than they drilled for the first time in five months, suggesting oil output could grow even faster than last year’s 35 percent surge as a year-long shortage of workers and equipment finally begins to subside.

As output accelerates, North Dakota should overtake Alaska as the second-largest U.S. producer within months, extending an unexpected oil rush that has already upended the global crude market, clipped U.S. oil imports, and made the state’s economy the fastest-growing in the union.

Six new crews trained in “well completion” — fracking and other work that follows drilling — have moved into North Dakota in the past two months alone, according to the state regulator and industry sources. Back in December, the state was 10 crews short of the number needed to keep up with newly drilled wells.

“Three to four months ago, the operators were begging for fracking crews,” said Monte Besler, who consults companies on fracking jobs in North Dakota’s Bakken shale prospect. Now “companies are calling, asking if we have a well to frack.”

For the last three years, smaller oil companies with thin pockets were forced to wait for two to three months before they could book fracking crews and get oil out of their wells. As more and more wells were drilled, that backlog has grown.

Last year, an average 12 percent of all oil wells were idled in North Dakota. Even so, output in January hit 546,000 barrels per day, doubling in the last two years and pushing the state ahead of California as the country’s third-largest producer.

FEWER WELLS IDLE

Fracking, which unlocks trapped oil by injecting tight shale seams with a slurry of water, sand and chemicals, has drawn fierce protests in some parts of the country, but it has not generated heated opposition in North Dakota.

The number of idle wells waiting to be completed in the state reached a record 908 last June, the result of a new drilling rush and heavy spring floods. Only 733 wells were idle in August as crews caught up, but the figure crept steadily higher until the start of this year.

Now, the industry may be turning a corner in North Dakota, the fastest-growing oil frontier in the world.

“Both rig count and hydraulic fracturing crews are limiting factors. Should they continue to rise together, production will not only increase, it will accelerate,” said Lynn Helms, director of the state Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division.

The tame winter likely played an important role in helping reduce the number of idle wells — those that have been drilled but not yet fracked and prepped for production. That number fell by 11 in January, as oil operations that would normally be slowed by blizzards were able to carry on, experts said.

Residents of the northern Midwest state — accustomed to temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 Celsius) in winter and snow piles as high as 107 inches — this year enjoyed the fourth warmest since 1894, according to the National Weather Service.

The milder conditions also helped prevent the usual exodus of warm-weather workers that occurs when blizzards set in.

“Not everyone wants to work in North Dakota in the winter,” Besler said.

The backlog of unfinished wells has also begun to subside because the pace with which new wells are drilled has leveled off. The state hasn’t added new rigs since November.

The latest state data shows oil companies brought 37 new rigs to North Dakota’s in 2011 but have not added more since November. The rig count held steady at 200 in January 2012, although more than 200 new wells were drilled in that period.

SLUMPING NATGAS PRICE PROVIDES RELIEF

North Dakota has gotten a boost from the fall-off in natural gas drilling due to the collapse in prices to 10-year lows. Energy companies such as Chesapeake and Encana have shut existing natural gas wells and cut back on new ones. Last week, the number of rigs drilling for gas in the United States sank to the lowest level in 10 years as major producers slimmed down their gas business, according to data from Houston-based oil services firm Baker Hughes. [ID:nL2E8EG9OY] The fewer gas wells drilled, the less need for skilled fracking crews in the country’s shale gas outposts.

Fracking in oil patches is similar to the process used in gas wells, except for the inherent power of the pumps employed. Crews inject high-pressure water, sand and chemicals to free hydrocarbons trapped in shale rock. So big service firms such as Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger  are reshuffling crews from shale gas fields to oil prospects in the badlands. “We have moved or are moving about eight crews. Some of those crews are moving as we speak,” Mark McCollum, Halliburton’s chief financial officer, said at an industry summit in February.

Halliburton declined to specify where the crews were moving.

Calgary-based Calfrac moved one crew into the Bakken in late 2011, according to an SEC filing. Privately owned FTS International no longer works in the gas-rich Barnett shale but has set up operations in the Utica, an emerging prospect in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, according to a company representative.

The reallocations come with some efficiency losses. Halliburton had to scale back its 24-hour operations and is still trying to solve logistical problems. “You actually take the crew from one basin and they have to go stay in motels, you have to pay them per diems for a while. And then you have to double up your personnel while you’re training new, locally based crew on the equipment once it is moved,” McCollum said.

At the same time, a shortage of key equipment such as pressure pumps is easing as companies start taking delivery of material ordered months or even years ago.

It takes about 15 such pumps to frack a gas well, and many more for oil wells. The total pressure-pumping capacity in the United States at the end of 2012 will be 19 million horsepower, two-and-a-half times more than in 2009, according to Dan Pickering, analyst with Tudor Holt and Pickering in Houston.

FRACKING AROUND THE NATION

Easing personnel constraints suggest recruiters may be meeting with success in nationwide campaigns to attract workers with specialized knowledge of complex pumps and hazmat trucks — and a willingness to brave harsh conditions.

Even with U.S. unemployment at 8.3 percent, such skilled labor remains in short supply despite salaries from $70,000 to $120,000 a year. In North Dakota, unemployment was just 3.2 percent in January, the lowest rate in the nation.

Fracking crews, much like roughnecks on drilling rigs, clock in 12-hour shifts for two straight weeks before getting a day off. They live in camps far from cities and towns. Jobs are transient — a few weeks at a single location. Most workers divide their time between the California desert, Texas ranchlands and the freezing badlands of the Midwest state.

Companies have scrambled to nab talent, with recruiters scouring far and wide. Military bases have gotten frequent visits, and some companies have hired truckers from Europe.

“There’s definitely a push to look all over for people who have good experience since it takes at least six months to train someone how to use a fracking pump,” said David Vaucher, analyst with IHS Cambridge Energy Research.

(Editing by David Gregorio)

Pioneer Bets On West Texas Shale Oil To Rival Bakken

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Two wells drilled by Pioneer Natural Resources have already exceeded expectations. The company has 900,000 acres under lease.

By MARILYN ALVA, INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY Posted 01:41 PM ET

U.S. oil production is enjoying a renaissance, thanks to new technology that has made oil recovery possible in tight shale rock.

The busy Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana is the largest and best-known oil shale play.

The Eagle Ford in South Texas and the Barnett “combo play” (gas and oil) in North Texas are also fairly famous unconventional plays.

But the Wolfcamp Shale?

“Over the next two or three years, everybody is going to be making a beeline to the Wolfcamp,” said Scott Sheffield, chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD).

Spanning numerous counties across West Texas, the Wolfcamp formation is located below the long-plied Spraberry field, which helped make Midland, Texas, oil-central starting in the early 1950s.

Its location in the Midland Basin is within the larger Permian Basin.

Sheffield and other oil experts say the Wolfcamp is probably the thickest of any onshore U.S. oil shale play, with up to 1,000 feet of potential payout across hundreds of thousands of acres.

Biggest And Thickest

“It will be the biggest, and it is already the thickest,” Sheffield said. “So it’s got the most pay zones of any oil shale play in the U.S. I call it the third or fourth coming of the boom in West Texas.”

If Wolfcamp does turn out to be the next big oil shale play, Pioneer is on the ground floor. With 900,000 acres under lease in the Spraberry, it has the largest land position.

Pioneer believes that more than 400,000 of those acres are ripe for horizontal drilling.

Its game plan: drill 10,000 feet down through the Spraberry to the Wolfcamp and then out 7,000 feet horizontally.

For now, it’s targeting 200,000 acres in the southern portion of the Spraberry field.

Pioneer’s two completed wells in the Wolfcamp have already exceeded expectations, each producing 800 to 1,000 barrels of oil a day, and they’re still early in production.

EOG Resources (EOG) started drilling in the Wolfcamp earlier and is now seeing higher output from its 35 or so wells.

But Sheffield says Pioneer will be a bigger operator in the Wolfcamp in the sense that it has 400,000 prospect-worthy acres to EOG’s 100,000.

“We are going to drill 80 wells in 2012 and 2013,” he said.

EOG’s wells in the Wolfcamp are producing 2,000 barrels a day, says Dan Morrison, analyst with Global Hunter Securities.

“Even if Pioneer’s don’t get to 2,000 barrels a day, at 800 barrels a day the play is incredibly economic,” Morrison said.

Source

The Bakken Oil Boom Will End Like Every Other ‘Gold Rush’

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Figure 1: Map of the U.S. Bakken-Lodgepole Total Petroleum System (blue), five continuous assessment units (AU) (green), and one conventional assessment unit (yellow) (Source: USGS)

The Oil Drum

[This post by Derik Andreoli, Senior Analyst at Mercator International LLC, is republished with permission from The Oil Drum.]

In 2009, U.S. oil production began to climb after declining for 22 of the previous 23 years.

The shale oil production of the Bakken formation, which straddles the Montana-North Dakota border and stretches into Canada, has been a significant contributor to this temporary uptick in oil production.

The Bakken boom has inspired a number of prominent commentators to resurrect the energy independence meme. Daniel Yergin was first at bat, asserting in an essay published by The Wall Street Journal that rising prices and emerging technologies (especially hydraulic fracturing) will significantly drive up world liquid fuels production over the coming decade(s). Ultimately, Mr. Yergin argues that tight supplies lead to high fuel prices, and high fuel prices will bring previously inaccessible oil to the market. The trouble with this line of thinking is that high prices aren’t merely a symptom of the supply problem; high prices are the problem.

After Mr. Yergin stole first base through this apparently convincing display of contortionist logic, the next up to bat was Ed Crooks who recently penned an analysis piece for the Financial Times. In this piece, Mr. Crooks declares that “the growth in U.S. and Canadian production from new sources, coupled with curbs on demand as a result of more efficient use of fuel, is creating a realistic possibility that North America will be able to declare oil independence.”

Mr. Crooks thus ‘balances’ rising production from shale oil and Canadian tar sands against declining consumption, which he mistakenly chalks up to efficiency gains rather than the deleterious effects of the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Beyond this obvious blunder, Mr. Crooks manages an even greater and far more common gaffe by neglecting to integrate decline rates of mature fields into his analysis.

But in a game where the media is the referee and the public doesn’t know the rules, Mr. Crooks manages to get on base by knocking a foul ball into the bleachers. With Yergin on second and Crooks on first, Edward Luce steps up to plate and takes a swat at the energy independence meme, directing the ‘greens’ to look away as “America is entering a new age of plenty”. And while the greens looked away, Mr. Luce took a cheap shot at clean energy through an attack on the federal government’s support for the now bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, Solyndra. Luce thus willingly employs the logical fallacy of hasty generalization to sway his audience. Of course the Solyndra bankruptcy is no more generalizable to the solar energy industry than BP’s Macondo oil spill is to all offshore oil production, but in a game of marketing one-upmanship one should not expect a balanced and rigorous evaluation of the possibilities.

With the bases loaded and oil prices remaining stubbornly high as tensions in the Middle East and North Africa persist, the crowd is getting anxious. And the crowd should be anxious. After all, tight supplies and rising oil prices strain personal finances and threaten to send our fragile economy back into recession. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the public is as eager to consume the myth of everlasting abundance, as they are eager to consume these scarce resources.

While the Bakken boom offers a hopeful story in which American ingenuity and nature’s endless bounty emancipate us from energy oppression and dependence on evil and oppressive foreign dictators, musings of energy independence are premature, misguided, and misleading. The problem with the Bakken story as told by Crooks and others is that it lacks historical context. Referring to recent developments as an energy revolution implies that there are no lessons to be learned from history. But as Mark Twain put it, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

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Austin TX: Statoil takes Brigham stock

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Statoil gained majority acceptance from shareholders of Brigham Exploration on Thursday for its $36.50 per share offer to acquire the US tight oil player.

Steve Marshall  01 December 2011 09:11 GMT

The Norwegian state oil company struck a $4.4 billion deal recently to acquire Austin, Texas-based Brigham to give it access to prospective unconventional plays in the Bakken and Three Forks formations in the Williston basin, spanning North Dakota and Montana.

Statoil’s bid had already been accepted by Brigham management but was waiting on the company’s stockholders to tender their shares in response to the offer, with a deadline at midnight New York time on 30 November.

The transaction earlier ran into turbulence when Brigham shareholders sued the US independent, contending that Statoil’s buyout price was too low.

However, more than 87.7% of Brigham’s outstanding common stock has now been tendered to Statoil’s wholly-owned subsidiary Fargo Acquisition, Statoil said in a statement.

A subsequent offer period started on Thursday and will expire at midnight NY time on 7 December for the tender of the remaining shares.

Completion of the tender offer will enable the merger transaction to go ahead.

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Unconventional No More: Huge Gas And Oil Plays Emerge

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Controversial estimates of potentially enormous new energy reserves highlighted by energy company strategists have sparked a wave of optimistic forecasts for fossil fuel development.

Natural gas from shale will soon cease to be considered “unconventional”, said vice-president and chief economist of industry group America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) Sara Banaszak.

“In the next 5-10 years we’ll be done with the word ‘unconventional’,” Banaszak said at the US Association for Energy Economics conference in Washington, DC on 11 October.

“We’re very much at the very, very, very beginning of the revolution, and we don’t even see where this is going yet.

“It won’t make sense to talk about unconventional,” Banaszak said. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has forecast that shale gas’ share of US natural gas supply will rise to 46% in 2035 from 14% in 2009. “Even today it’s already, by some estimates, between 20% and 28% of the natural gas that’s produced in the United States,” Banaszak said.

The Novelty Of Shale Remains

Despite rapid development of the unconventional gas sector in the US, shale as a viable source of gas is still a relatively recent phenomenon. Both the ultimate volume of recoverable reserves, and their impact on domestic and global markets, remain to be seen.

Read more about how natural gas reserve estimates are made here. For more on the impact of shale gas on US energy markets, read here.

Estimates of natural gas resources available in the United States has risen dramatically in recent years, and upward revisions continue. EIA estimates of potential shale gas resources in the US more than doubled in the agency’s 2011 Annual Energy Outlook from the year before, to 862 trillion cubic feet.

Banaszak compared these rising estimates to previous upward revisions in areas like the deepwater US Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. “There’s definitely a pattern, as the industry operates in a new resource area, we learn more about it, we learn to understand it better, and estimates often change,” Banaszak said.

And estimates of both how much is in the ground and how much of it is recoverable, may continue to increase as exploration continues and extraction techniques improve.

“We’re very much at the very, very, very beginning of the revolution, and we don’t even see where this is going yet. Any idea you have about where this is headed is probably still not fully informed, because we’re just still learning,” said Banaszak.

Unearthing Shale Liquids

The same trends of rising production volumes and reserve estimates may be emerging in liquids-rich onshore unconventional fields.

“It is an area where a lot of progress is being made,” EIA deputy administrator Howard Gruenspecht told AOL Energy.

Gruenspecht highlighted the Bakken Shale, which spans parts of North Dakota, Montana, and Saskatchewan in Canada, and the Eagle Ford in Texas, as among the most prominent of US onshore oil plays. He also noted prospects for the Utica Shale, which spans parts of the US midwest and northeast, as well as Quebec.

The Utica “has not provided significant production growth yet, but there is certainly a lot of talk that this will be a liquids-heavy resource,” Gruenspecht said.

See: Utica Shale May Be Its Own Energy Game-Changer.

A study by the National Petroleum Council, an advisory group that represents oil and gas industry views, suggested that at the high end of the spectrum, tight “shale” liquids plays in the US and Canada could hold recoverable resource potential of 10-20 billion barrels, and future production may exceed 1 million barrels per day.

But forecasting with any accuracy is as difficult for unconventional liquids as it has been for unconventional natural gas. “It’s very early days”, said president of consultancy Strategic Energy & Economic Research (SEER) Michael Lynch.

The large shale liquids deposits in the US — which Lynch said number “at least a dozen” — could collectively hold 100 billion barrels of oil in place, with around 1-3% recoverable. Even at low recovery rates, with such a large resource base, “1% means 1 billion barrels”, Lynch said. He suggested that each deposit could add 50,000 barrels per day each year once equipment and personnel are available.

And unconventional onshore oil reserve estimates may rise substantially as new discoveries are made and producers hone techniques to extract liquids from tight rock. “You’re going to get more recovery per well, lower costs, quicker times, and so forth”, Lynch said.

“Tight Race” Between Onshore and Offshore

Tapping oil and liquids from unconventional formations has already begun to impact US oil production, which rose in 2009 and 2010 after declining steadily since the mid-1980’s. But other sources of output, such as the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, may be equally important to future domestic production growth.

Oil production in North Dakota has risen sharply in recent years, recently surpassing 400,000 barrels per day, thanks in large part to the Bakken Shale. But “while the trend in North Dakota and the unconventional resources is certainly worthy of note, it does not replace the offshore Gulf, particularly the deepwater,” Gruenspecht told AOL Energy.

US offshore crude production from the Gulf of Mexico averaged 1.6 million barrels per day in 2010, accounting for almost one-third of total US oil production, according to the EIA. “We’re talking in North Dakota about production that’s well less than a third of the federal Gulf of Mexico production,” said Gruenspecht.

The NPC study lists potential recoverable oil resources in the US Gulf of Mexico at the high end of the range at 40-60 billion barrels — three-to-four times its estimates for unconventional “tight oil”. According to the NPC, production from the Gulf could rise to 3 million barrels per day in the near- to medium-term if discovered reservoirs yield commercial volumes and drilling returns to levels of activity seen prior to the 2010 oil spill from the Macondo well.

But Lynch foresees a “tight race” between production growth from US unconventional onshore plays and the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

For shale liquids, “it seems like there’s a lot of potential, and the obstacles are relatively few”, Lynch said. Such obstacles could include new regulations that limit the use of hydraulic fracturing, or procuring sufficient hydraulic fracturing equipment to drill large numbers of wells.

In the deepwater drilling areas, companies’ push into new areas has the potential to unearth supergiant fields. “When you start talking about billion-barrel fields, that’s a lot of oil. And the implication is that if there’s one billion-barrel field, there are probably a lot more 400 million barrel fields,” he said.Related Articles

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