The paradox of increasing initial oil production but faster decline rates in fracking the Bakken Shale: Implications for long term productivity of tight oil plays

Frank Male, Ian J. Duncan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

In the US, tight oil is the largest source of liquid hydrocarbons and has enabled the country to become the world's largest oil producer. The estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) and rate of production decline are key metrics in the evaluation of the future productivity of tight oil wells. We chose the Bakken Shale because of its high quality, publicly available data. Traditionally, well operators have estimated the EUR for each well from the initial production (IP), using empirical type curves to extrapolate to the ultimate production. From 2015 to 2018 the IP of the average Bakken well increased by approximately 50%. This increase resulted in claims by operators and in the academic literature that more intense hydraulic fracturing was increasing the average EUR of the Bakken play. At the same time, other observers claimed the wells declined much more rapidly than previous wells. This faster decline provided evidence for lower ultimate production from newer wells. The aim of this study was to understand the origin of these seemingly conflicting observations. A physics-based, scaling model was used to predict production from horizontal multi-stage fractured wells. The model for oil recovery is based on pressure diffusion through fractured porous media. The model assumes that the rock is incompressible, the permeability and oil saturation are constant, the water is incompressible, and the viscosity is slowly varying with space. The scaling model was applied to 13,444 wells. The EUR and terminal decline rate (TDR) were estimated from fitting production to our scaling model. Our study found that implementation of more intensive hydraulic fracturing resulted in higher IP and steeper terminal-production declines. Recently published results estimating the total production from the Bakken that include increased lifetime production commensurate with observed increases in average IP, significantly overestimate the long-term production potential of tight oil, both in the US and globally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109406
JournalJournal of Petroleum Science and Engineering
Volume208
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology

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