Upping the stakes with frack analysis
The use of analytics in unconventional resource exploration
By: Keith Holdaway, Principal Oil and Gas Solution Architect, SAS
The Beverly Hillbillies sitcom on American TV in the 1960s brought viewers a novel lesson about oil and gas exploration and production: You could be out "shootin' at some food and up through the ground" could come some "bubblin' crude. Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea."1
Fast forward 50 years: People may still be out "shootin' at some food" somewhere, but they aren't too likely to bust open a gusher with a wayward shot. The easy oil deposits that sit in reservoirs under pressure, waiting to be tapped, are mostly known. The rigs are in place, doing their work, pumping oil.
A quick look at "matrix" and "fracture" acidizing will demonstrate the process. Once a well is drilled, both techniques send chemically laced water downhole into geological formations to help interconnect the rock pores for increased permeability. The hydrocarbons then drain to the wellbore and are pumped to the surface, where they are separated. Matrix acidizing is a low-pressure technique that leaves the reservoir rock intact, while fracture acidizing pressurizes the chemical and physically breaks the rock apart to increase hydrocarbon flows.2 In common parlance, this process is known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."
On the supply side, many Eastern and Western European countries are discovering their own unconventional fields and using them to break their dependence on energy from Russia.5 And new unconventional fields seem to be discovered nearly every day in North and South America, either in new formations or in wells previously thought near the end of their usable reserves.6 Because of these dynamics, fracking will likely continue to gain momentum worldwide, if only it can reduce its inherent wildcatting factor and gain greater public confidence.
Data is the new black gold
After finding the oil, the wizards work to determine the best chemical, heating and pressurizing processes that allow the oil to be released and pumped to the surface.
But as you can imagine, these data streams are incredibly complex and nuanced. Making sense of them can help stimulate the reservoir and recover the considerable expense involved in fracking. Failure to do so might be like throwing money down the hole. The challenge requires the use of logical workflows and processes available in analytics-based exploration and production methodologies7 like modeling, simulating and predicting well productivity through integrated exploratory, predictive and forecasting capabilities.
Used together, these advanced analytical capabilities can extract hidden predictive information, identify drivers and leading indicators of efficient well production, determine the best intervals for stimulation, and recommend optimum stimulation processes and frequencies. These capabilities work together to decrease the uncertainties about what is beneath the surface, matching high-tech drilling processes to the subterranean landscapes, and otherwise shifting the E&P mindset to that of a manufacturer's model.
It's a process that works, and increasingly seems to be the wave of the future, wingtips and all.