© DTC Energy Group, Inc. 2014
By Heather Siegel – Denver, CO
In line with the tremendous technological advancements that are enabling operators to drill to 27,000 feet or more, major improvements in completion design and technology are yielding significant results. Wells are now being completed with up to 65 frac stages in the Utica Shale and producing more gas and condensate than ever before.
The average number of frac stages per well in the Utica is currently 45 to 50. However, some DTC Energy Group completion supervisors have successfully fractured up to 65 stages, with 75-stage fracs just around the corner. This is a substantial increase compared to five years ago, when the average number of stages in the Utica and many other basins was just eight to 10.
The average total depth of wells in the Utica ranges from 17,000 to 20,000 feet with 8,000- to 9,500-foot laterals. For a 70-stage frac, spacing between stages ranges from roughly 115 to 130 feet.
Advancements in knowledge, experience and technology have been the catalysts for such a rapid achievement.
A higher experience level of completion supervisors has been one of the main drivers for such a significant advancement in multi-stage completion operations.
Highly experienced completion supervisors are able to apply what they’ve learned from previous frac jobs and collaborate with engineers to make necessary changes to the overall completion design and equipment.
“Engineers will send the frac design, with pump rates, pressures and sand volumes at set concentrations, to the field,” explained Matt Meyer, completion engineer, DTC Energy Group. “These are general guidelines. Then it’s up to the completions supervisor to determine what the well will actually allow per the design, throughout the different stages of the frac. The well may not allow certain concentrations of sand to be pumped, due to the formation.”
Meyer explained that most producers allow the completions supervisor to make slight adjustments to the frac design from one stage to another as needed. If the completions supervisor assesses the need for more significant changes, he’ll consult with the engineer to adjust the design.
“An experienced completion supervisor knows how to read the well as it’s being fractured and make the proper adjustments to best stimulate it,” Meyer said.
The ability to drill to greater depths with extended-reach laterals has required a redesign of completion equipment and the maintenance structure for it.
Pumps now need to operate at much higher pressures and rates than ever before. “The deeper the formation, the higher the pressure, and the higher the rating you need for pumps and well heads,” Meyer said. Equipment also needs to be able to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“The shift from daylight to 24/7 completion operations now requires equipment to be run non-stop,” Meyer added. “This demand has forced a redesign of all completions equipment to run harder, faster and longer.”
Service companies are meeting this demand. Pumps are sturdier and can operate for longer periods of time before requiring maintenance. Maintenance programs are also much more efficient, saving operators a significant amount of down-time.
“Maintenance companies now provide mobile units that come out to location while you’re pumping and service equipment right there on site,” Meyer explained. “Most often, you don’t even take equipment to the yard anymore.”
After almost every job, completion equipment used be sent to a maintenance yard to be serviced, a process that often spanned the course of seven to 10 days. Onsite maintenance programs have eliminated a great deal of that down-time, while playing a key role in the ability of equipment to run virtually non-stop.
“The speed of the advancement of equipment is amazing, keeping up with, if not surpassing, the needs we have in the industry,” Meyer commented. “It’s a non-stop process with needs that are constantly changing. And it all boils down to production – getting more product out of the ground and controlling costs. Advancement in technology is allowing that to happen by leaps and bounds, and production rates are constantly shooting up.”
Significant advances in monitoring of the completion process now allow completion supervisors and engineers to see the full picture of each frac job and allow them to make design adjustments to improve future wells. Decisions on what type of sand to use and when is an example of the knowledge gained from advancements in monitoring.
“Better monitoring builds directly into how we develop our frac designs,” Meyer explained. “We now have more formation, pressure and downhole information than ever before, and that helps us better design the next frac.”
Advanced monitoring enables completion supervisors and engineers to make better determinations about proppants, chemicals, pressures and rates.
“The advancements we’re seeing in completion design would not be possible without the advanced monitoring technology we have today,” Meyer stated.
Highly experienced completion supervisors have been the drivers for many of the rapid advancements in completion operations over the past decade. With the help of advanced monitoring technology, these supervisors utilize their field experience to collaborate with engineers to make significant improvements to equipment and the overall completion design.
By Heather Siegel – Denver, CO
Heather Siegel, assistant director of marketing at DTC Energy Group, Inc., is also a meteorologist with a degree from the University of Oklahoma and member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Prior to joining DTC Energy Group, she worked as a meteorologist and online journalist for AccuWeather. Some of her previous articles and research include long-range seasonal forecasts for the United States and Europe, as well as outlooks on the effects of hurricanes on oil and gas prices. In her position at DTC Energy Group, Ms. Siegel is continuing her passion for forecasting and trends by writing about the oil and gas industry.