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Unconventional Gas Is Anything But After the Shale Revolution

natural gas now - Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

Too many regulatory agencies are still using the term unconventional gas, which is more out of date than bell bottom pants after the shale revolution.

Once again, the Energy Information Administration is out with some fascinating facts that reveal the true scale of the there shale revolution. They also expose just how far behind the times some regulatory agencies are with their terminology. Their data demonstrates, beyond any doubt, that it’s time the term unconventional gas was consigned to the trash can. According to the EIA, hydraulically fractured horizontal wells “accounted for 69% of all oil and natural gas wells drilled in the United States and 83% of the total linear footage drilled” in 2016.”

The EIA article, appearing on their Today In Energy site this week, began with that simple but astounding fact; roughly three quarters of all new oil and gas well activity today consists of hydraulically fractured horizontal wells, yet, just yesterday I heard a Pennsylvania DEP refer to unconventional gas. No wonder, the public is confused. Here are the facts from EIA:

The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has increased the rate of recent U.S. crude oil, lease condensate, and natural gas production.

Hydraulically fractured horizontal wells became the predominant method of new U.S. crude oil and natural gas development in October 2011, when total footage (in linear feet) surpassed all other drilling and completion techniques. The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulically fracturing has contributed to increases in crude oil and natural gas production in the United States, which are both expected to reach record levels in 2018.

Although horizontal drilling has been used for nearly a century, its use as a source of U.S. oil and natural gas production began growing in the early 2000s. The process involves drilling a well vertically to a certain depth and then bending the path of the drilling until it extends horizontally. Because they are longer, and the drilling process is more complex, a horizontal well is generally more expensive to drill than a vertical well, but it is expected to produce more crude oil and natural gas.

Horizontal drilling allows more of the wellbore to remain in contact with the producing formation, increasing the amount of oil or natural gas that can be recovered. This method also results in horizontal wells having more drilled footage than vertical wells—hence total footage drilled using horizontal drilling techniques surpassed vertical footage before the actual number of horizontal wells surpassed the number of vertical wells.

In 2016, total drilled footage reached nearly 13 million feet, about 10.7 million of which were hydraulically fractured and horizontally drilled. The length of the horizontal section, or lateral, can range from a few hundred feet to several miles.

Hydraulically fractured horizontal wells have accounted for most of all new wells drilled and completed since late 2014. As of 2016, about 670,000 of the 977,000 producing wells were hydraulically fractured and horizontally drilled.

Hydraulic fracturing is a completion technique, meaning it is performed after the oil or natural gas well has been drilled. Like horizontal drilling, this technique has been practiced for many years, but it has only recently become a major part of U.S. production in combination with horizontal drilling.

The data is clear and speaks for itself. There’s nothing unconventional about hydraulically fracturing and horizontal drilling anymore. It was only putting them together that was unconventional at first, but now it’s simply the way it’s done. It’s not experimental. it’s not unusual. It’s not unconventional. It’s simply natural gas development. The shale revolution has changed everything, so let’s stop this calling it unconventional.

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7 thoughts on “Unconventional Gas Is Anything But After the Shale Revolution

  1. We have squalled and screamed about definitions that change depending on who’s using them. At least the term “unconventional” is understood pretty much across the industry and legal lines. Some thing just ought not be changed. Getting rid of that term is about like saying the Constitution is changeable according to who is reading it.

    • Has anyone else had a Frac Out underneath there property as I have had under mine? Sinkholes and Saltwater….trees sinking in my yard. Damage to my home and pole building. Anyone wondering ….Whos next???

  2. Does what we call it really matter? The O&G industry have gotten more effective with drilling procedures. Also have done a better job with reducing damage to environment. Agree fracking term should not be negative.

  3. For 150 years, the industry has been evolving the engineering techniques required to harvest naturally occurring hydrocarbon products. The lion’s share of the techniques were developed to coax this material from the pore volume of sandstone and carbonate reservoirs–this is generally thought of as “conventional production”. With conventional production, the game is to manage a fixed and declining driving force.

    Starting with the CBM development in the early 1990’s we found a new driving force in “desorption” of gas attached to the surface of organic materials. This desorption energy significantly changes the engineering tools used/needed to produce shale gas and oil. The term “unconventional” highlights the fact that so many of the equations and processes that work very well in pore-volume storage are totally irrelevant in organic-storage. The term is still very useful.

    • Thank you for that explanation of one of the “basics” that I had never run into before. Does that difference then have implications on the expected active life of a well, making it a really long time?

      • Take a look at the Antrim Shle in Michigan, very flat for a very long time. I’m expecting the Marcellus to still be producing big gas volumes at the end of this century (the oil will likely be gone before 2030). Eagleford and Baaken probably have another 75 years or so, but the GOR will increase sharply as the organic isotherm crosses over the pore-volume isotherm.

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