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The Play: Bone Spring
It’s Rig Up Time Again in the Permian Basin
By Cheryl Hudak
“The Bone Spring Play is one of a long series of energy booms in this region. And most people didn’t think we could still drill 1,000-barrel-per-day wells down here.”
On the surface, not much changes in the Permian Basin of West Texas. The sun shines. The wind blows. The flat, semi-arid landscape stretches from horizon to horizon. For hundreds of miles, there is only silence, broken occasionally by the squeak of a windmill or the thump of a pumpjack.
Beneath the ground however, this legendary field has more plays than William Shakespeare. And the drama of finding and developing those vast natural gas and oil resources has continued for almost
a hundred years.
Working as a team, Production
Superintendent Chip Roemisch, left, and
Completion Superintendent Mark Mabe
study a field map in the Midland, Texas,
Today, Chesapeake Energy Corporation is opening a new play in the South Permian’s Bone Spring formation, as part of its transition to more liquids-rich asset bases, which the company is doing to take advantage of the significant and persistent value gap that has developed between natural gas and oil prices.
The company’s first Bone Spring well, University 19-14 W 1H, was drilled in February 2007. The game changer, however, was the Johnson 1-76 1H in Loving County, Texas, which opened with initial production (IP) of 1,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d). The company’s last four wells in the region had IP exceeding 1,000 boe/d, including the Monroe 1-17 1H in Ward County, which IP’d at 2,195 boe/d, including 3.1 million cubic feet (mmcf/d) of natural gas and 1,665 barrels of oil per day (bbs/d).
In February 2011, Chesapeake was operating five rigs in Loving, Reeves and Ward counties, Texas, and partnering with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation on another six wells. Chesapeake has identified approximately 1,600 potential wellsites on 270,000 acres of leasehold in the Bone Spring and adjacent Avalon Shale, which extends into New Mexico.
Night lighting on the Monroe 34-205 1 H in Ward
County, Texas, enables crews to work around the
The liquids-rich aspect of the play is particularly attractive to Chesapeake, with oil representing approximately 75% of the Bone Spring reserves. The company is targeting 350 thousand barrels of oil (mbo) and an estimated 890 million cubic feet (mmcf) of natural gas per well in the play.
“The Permian is more drilled up than any oil play in the U.S., except maybe Oklahoma,” said Josh Walker – Asset Manager, Permian Basin. “Midland, Texas, is the hub of the Permian, and almost everyone in town is involved in the natural gas and oil industry. Two years ago, when most cities in America had double-digit unemployment, Midland had a negative unemployment rate!
“The Bone Spring Play is one of a long series of energy booms in this region,” Walker added, “and most people didn’t think we could still drill 1,000-barrel-per-day wells down here.”
Bringing up oil begins with finding it, and the complicated geology of the region presents a challenge.
“The targeted interval of the Bone Spring formation lies about 9,000 to 10,500 feet deep, between the Avalon Shale formation above and the Wolfcamp below,” said David Godsey – Geoscience Manager of the Permian District, Western Division. “Actually, in the Bone Spring there are three sequences of sand interspersed with intervening carbonates and organic source bed shales. It’s almost like a patchwork quilt or a mosaic.”
Currently, the company is primarily active in the deepest of the three Bone Spring strata. After drilling to the appropriate vertical depth, the wellbore kicks off to move horizontally through one of the more porous sandstone layers. The well is completed by hydraulic fracturing, which creates fissures into the impermeable shale layers that lie above and below it.
“This is not as easy as it sounds,” Godsey said, explaining that the targeted sandstone intervals are only about 12 feet thick.
How do they find those slim targets, drilling down as far as two miles beneath the surface of the earth?
“It is a deductive process,” Godsey said. “We do a lot of mapping and analyzing of existing wells and how they produce. It’s similar to zooming in on a city map with a computer mapping system – each map is progressively more detailed – until we arrive at a map of the ‘sweet spot,’ showing sand within the Bone Spring and finally, oil in place in the particular strata.”
The enormous volume of data means computers are the indispensible tools of geologists and geophysicists. But they still rely on their own knowledge, experience and common sense, which are critical as they interpret and analyze the data provided by well logs and complex mapping systems. The process involves a wide range of high-tech disciplines, as well as fracture stimulation models to determine how to provide each well maximum contact with the surrounding rock.
Ultimately, wellsite selection depends on even broader factors than geology, such as land and leasing requirements, reserves, coordinating well completions and tie-ins
for oil and gas gathering.
“This play is completion and technology driven,” said Jay Stratton, Permian District Manager. “So cost control and optimizing completions for productivity is the name of the game. We improve our return on investment by doing the same numbers of perforation clusters, but in fewer frack stages, balancing the cost of fracking with well output.”
A desert panorama of the Blacktip 1-21 2H in Ward County, Texas.
Walker admits that he is fascinated with the fracking process.
“Fracking is the greatest thing I’ve ever done, other than having kids,” he said. “It is all about making the most contact between the wellbore and the reservoir, and fracking is how you do it. It’s pretty cool to think of everything you can do in a frack job to get the best results from a well. And you see those results in less than a week when the frack is complete. We’re really proud of what we do. Out here we say we work 24/7 to get cheap energy to America.”
Success requires an interdisciplinary team that includes the asset manager, geologist, reservoir engineer, landman, drilling engineer, petrophysicist and representative from Chesapeake Energy Marketing Inc. (CEMI). Drilling, production and transportation groups also meet every two weeks with their Anadarko counterparts to plan development for the Chesapeake-Anadarko partnership wells.
There is a long way to go in the Bone Spring Play. Its full extent has yet to be determined, so drilling crews are moving north and northwest to evaluate its boundaries. Currently, oil is being trucked out of the area and gas is transported by pipelines with an expanded infrastructure under construction to accommodate new oil and gas production.
“How are we going to take this play from two rigs to the rig count we have in Chesapeake’s other successful plays?” Walker asked. “Well, there’s not a doubt in anyone’s mind that it will get done. No one out here says, ‘We can’t do that.’ Our field guys are gung ho. We all are.”
That gung ho attitude may be one more thing that never changes in West Texas.