By Selam Gebrekidan Tue May 3, 2011 12:13am EDT
(Reuters) – A century after a gusher at the Spindletop field in Beaumont, Texas, ushered in the first U.S. oil boom, a quieter oil craze is underway 300 miles west in a chain of counties more famous for cattle than crude.
Over the past two years, some 30 companies have moved in to a shale prospect in South Texas called the Eagle Ford that could add 420,000 barrels per day (bpd) to U.S. crude oil production, nearly matching the output of OPEC member Ecuador.
The first phase of this latest boom has accelerated over the past year. Companies have hastened development of the estimated 3 billion barrels of shale oil across Eagle Ford by bringing in the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques that opened up North Dakota.
Where wildcatters and entrepreneurs pounced on the Spindletop boom at the start of the 20th century, engineers and business analysts are leading the charge to develop reserves under 20,000 square miles of cattle land in Eagle Ford.
Shale natural gas initially drew companies to the area, but as gas prices languished and crude surged, interest in the region’s crude potential grew.
To relieve a bottleneck producers say has begun to choke growth, pipeline companies in recent weeks committed more than $1 billion to add 940,000 barrels per day (bpd) of pipeline capacity by the end of 2012, according to Reuters estimates.
Texas, once the center of the oil world, fell on hard times as production declined and big energy companies looked overseas to expand and replenish reserves. After decades of decline, U.S. oil output is slowly rising again, largely due to shale reserves like the Bakken field in North Dakota and now Texas.
In April alone, top pipeline companies such as Enterprise Products, Nustar Energy and Koch pipelines announced five projects to build new crude and condensate lines or expand older ones, bringing the rising supply of high quality light, sweet oil to giant Gulf Coast refiners.
For now, truck drivers are working overtime to ferry oil from the region, which stretches across 22 counties in South Texas. Transport companies are retrofitting rigs, but often can’t find lodging for drivers as hotels and motels are booked a year in advance.
“The demand is really straining the trucking industry,” said John Esparza, president of the Texas Motor Transportation Association. “A lot of the capacity that existed a few years ago was cut during the recession. Now there is a spike in demand for a very specific type of truck.”
Explosive production growth will make the transportation infrastructure problem more glaring. Eagle Ford output has risen from nil two years ago to 71,000 barrels of oil per day, and will leap fivefold by 2015, according to energy consultancy Bentek.
“The growth …. clearly outpaces the capabilities of existing pipeline infrastructure,” says Joan Dunlap, spokesperson for Petrohawk Energy, one of the top four producers in Eagle Ford.
ConocoPhillips , which aims to triple its current output of 20,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the next few years, expects pipeline problems to be solved by 2013, the company said last week in its first-quarter earnings report.
FROM TWO DOZEN TO 2,000
The pace of development has picked up quickly since the first successful horizontal well was drilled in Eagle Ford in late 2008, when the Texas Railroad Commission had only 26 permits on record for the area.
The number shot up to more than a thousand in 2010, and the commission issued 562 permits in the first quarter of 2011 alone.
“The Eagle Ford is going from a non-event to being extremely active. We’re expecting a four to five times increase in permits and production in four years,” said Commissioner David Porter of the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates exploration companies operating in the state.
Updated: April 14, 2011
What is the Eagle Ford Shale?
The Eagle Ford Shale is a hydrocarbon producing formation of significant importance due to its capability of producing both gas and more oil than other traditional shale plays. It contains a much higher carbonate shale percentage, upwards to 70% in south Texas, and becomes shallower and the shale content increases as it moves to the northwest. The high percentage of carbonate makes it more brittle and “fracable”. The shale play trends across Texas from the Mexican border up into East Texas, roughly 50 miles wide and 400 miles long with an average thickness of 250 feet. It is Cretaceous in age resting between the Austin Chalk and the Buda Lime at a depth of approximately 4,000 to 12,000 feet. It is the source rock for the Austin Chalk and the giant East Texas Field. The name has often been misspelled as “Eagleford”. A great picture can be found at the Energy Information Administration (EIA) http://www.eia.gov/oil_gas/rpd/shaleusa9.pdf which shows the structural contours and windows for the oil, wet gas/condensate and dry gas.
History of the Eagle Ford
It is named for the town of Eagle Ford, Texas where it can be seen on the surface as clay soil. Eagle Ford, Texas is approximately 6 miles west of Dallas, Texas. An outcrop of the Eagle Ford Shale can be seen in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Wikipedia shows a nice picture of the outcrop of the Austin Chalk and Eagle Ford shale at the following link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Austin_Chalk_-Eagle_Ford_Contact.JPG
Petrohawk drilled the first of the Eagle Ford wells in 2008, discovering in the process the Hawkville (Eagle Ford) Field in La Salle County (District 1). The discovery well flowed at a rate of 7.6 million cubic feet of gas per day from a 3,200-foot lateral (first perforation 11,141 feet total vertical depth) with 10 frac stages. Originally, there were 30 plus fields, however, due to field consolidations, the number of fields has been reduced to currently 16 fields located within the Railroad Commission Districts 1 thru 6 and the fields cover 22 counties . The wells in the deeper part of the play deliver a dry gas, but moving northeastward out of District 1 and updip, the wells produce more liquids. One of the fields discovered in District 2 is actually an oil field (Eagleville (Eagle Ford)). The major operators joining Petrohawk in drilling the Eagle Ford Shale Play are Anadarko, Apache, Atlas, EOG, Lewis Petro, Geo Southern, Pioneer, SM Energy and XTO to name just a few.