In contrast to the fairy tale, the Wolfcamp Shale Play has proven very real, located in the Midland Basin of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Oil and gas producers have drilled this Permian-aged play since 2009, with particular success in Midland, Andrews, Loving, Pecos, Winkler, Glasscock, Howard, Crockett, Irion, Reagan, Schleicher, and Upton counties.
Oil & Gas Challenges
Wolfcamp sits 5,000-10,000 feet underground with a thickness between 600-1,200 feet. Areas with embedded limestone can be 2,500 feet thick. This challenging combination of depth and thickness requires operators to drill multiple wellbores to extract resources.
On the plus side, Wolfcamp’s thickness is ideal for horizontal drilling. Large volumes of oil are sealed in these pockets at high pressures. The pressure gradient of 0.7psi/ft enables higher production rates with shallower declines.
This “ideal” situation, however, is limited to a specific region in the western portion at the basin floor, where the high organic-rich accumulations prove technically and economically viable targets. Drilling recovery is most profitable in that area.
Several elements have benefited drilling operations in the Wolfcamp. First, the play is similar to other existing plays, so operators have made an easy transition. Second, the infrastructure is already in place from previous explorations, including the Spraberry formation that has been drilled since the 1950s. Third, wide-spread industry interest and E&D activity has helped de-risk Wolfcamp. Several operators have drilled multiple successful horizontal wells, proving the production value of the play. Additionally, many low-risk drilling locations have been identified that have a good chance of producing a high yield. A map of Wolfcamp operators, wells, and permits is located below.
Advancing technologies also benefit Wolfcamp operators. Now that horizontal drilling has proven successful, E&P companies are able to rework old wells. Average lateral lengths have increased from 3,600 feet to 7,400 feet, and operators note a direct correlation between longer lateral length and greater average 24-hour peak initial production (IP) rates, increasing from 300 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) to more than 1,000 boe/d.
Some key players show very promising production thus far:
- Approach Resource’s well results range from 634-1,310 boe/d. The graphic depicts
the company’s growth and attributes Wolfcamp with much of their success.
- Eagle returned more than 100 billion barrels of oil during lateral drilling.
- El Paso Corp. drilled a 7,500-foot lateral with 25 frac stages that had a 24-hour IP of 1,393 boe/d.
- Three EOG wells had maximum IP rates of just over 1,450 boe/d.
Since the inception of the play, initial production rates have averaged 580 boe/d, with solid increases over time as completion techniques have improved and lateral lengths have increased. As of November 2012, average IPs neared 700 boe/d with estimated ultimate recoveries (EURs) of 450,000-500,000 boe.
Having already captured the interest of private O&G companies, independent E&D companies, and major integrated oil companies, Wolfcamp is still in the very early stages of development. Analysts have yet to speculate on its productive limits, but estimates exceed 1 billion barrels.
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