Hydraulic Fracking Drillers Are Trying To Improve Production With More Sand

Published by   – October 1, 2015

Brett Pennington of Murphy Oil Corp. is carrying out an experiment in the Eagle Ford shale formation, Pennington wants to know, if an increase of sand down downhole in these wells will increase production or, will it choke off the flow?

For the experiment, the sand meter is increased to 3,000 pounds per foot, almost double the average that each well in the Eagle Ford currently. The project seems a bit extreme; it also serves to illustrate a trend spreading rapidly across a shale industry. Companies are scrambling to remain profitable after oil prices sank 50 percent. More and more sand is being used in wells to try to better hold open the rock fractures to bolster output.

Some of this is just a cost phenomenon. With the fall of crude prices, the sand market collapsed too, driving down the price 30 percent making it cheaper to increase sand loads. Years earlier, engineers began tinkering with inputs to discover one of the many technological breakthroughs that have helped the shale industry weather the downturn better than predicted. US productivity remains within 3 percent of a 40-year high even though more than half rigs are idle. A report Wednesday showed production rose 1 percent in July to 9.4 million barrels a day.

The increase in sand usage has been steady. In 2012, the average well in the Eagle Ford received less than 1,000 pounds for every foot into the ground... By 2013, that number was about 1,200 pounds. Last year it climbed to over 1,500 pounds.

The Eagle Ford play is in shale. Shale rock is like concrete. Hydraulic fracking relies on large quantities of both sand and water to produce cracks that allow trapped oil and gas to flow out... The sand then keeps the cracks open, elongates them and makes them jagged. Increase the amount of sand and you increase the amount of fractures that stay open.

What Murphy Oil, EOG Resources Inc. and other shale drillers are trying to figure out is the best proportion of sand in each well to maximize production and reduce cost. Early results are due out in the next few months.

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