Unconventional techniques can help unlock 141bn barrels
As much as 141bn barrels of incremental hydrocarbon resources could be unlocked if drilling and completion techniques refined in USA shale plays are applied to conventional, low-productivity oil plays to other countries, according to new analysis
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, alongside other technological breakthroughs in recent years, could pump that much oil out of 170 older, largely unproductive fields around the world, from the Middle East to Russia to Latin America.
IHS Energy researchers conducted a high-level assessment that identified more than 170 mature oil plays worldwide with untapped oil potential that might benefit from horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
IHS’ V-P of upstream energy research Susan Farrell said, “While our analysis was an initial, high-level assessment of low productivity plays outside the USA, we were quite surprised at the impressive potential for increased recovery using these unconventional techniques.
“As many of the world’s oil and gas producers struggle to lower costs and optimise existing assets, we wondered what kind of impact the application of newer technological innovations could deliver to the industry in terms of expanding conventional resource potential outside North America.”
The rock properties in these mature plays are less than desirable for production using conventional techniques, and as a result, many of them have produced only a small portion of the total oil in place.
Of the estimated 141bn barrels of potentially recoverable oil using unconventional techniques, the IHS assessment determined that 135bn barrels exist in plays that would likely require hydraulic fracture stimulation to produce.
“Drilling horizontal wells allows access to thinner zones, where vertical wells are not commercially productive,” according to Leta K. Smith, director of upstream energy research at IHS Energy, and the principal analyst behind the IHS analysis.
“Also, horizontal wells allow engineers to connect compartmentalised portions of the reservoir with one well instead of many vertical wells, which addresses cost and footprint considerations as well as increasing the well-to-reservoir contact ratio.”
In addition, the study said, modern seismic and measurement-while-drilling technologies would allow operators to achieve better placement of fractures to take advantage of natural fracturing and other geologic features for maximising production and avoiding water zones.
“Combined with other technologies developed for shale development, such as pad drilling, these improvements could breathe new life into some of these older, conventional fields,” Smith noted.
Three instances cited in the IHS analysis that showed operators already leveraging some of these newer techniques to address different geologic and production challenges include Saint Martin de Bossenay field in the Paris (France) basin; Tahe Complex in China’s Tarim basin; and Bir Ben Tartar field in Tunisia.
According to the IHS analysis, the numbers of low-productivity conventional fields that could benefit from new technologies are relatively evenly distributed across the various regions of the world, but two-thirds of the estimated potential incremental oil volumes are in the Middle East and Latin American countries, including Iran, Russia, Mexico and China.