Shale doubters invariably pin their pessimism to the high production decline rates of fracked wells—when compared to more conventional operations, shale projects see their output drop off quite quickly. Or, at least, that used to be the case. Now, as Reuters reports, the fracking industry is making remarkable progress in reducing those decline rates, fixing the “Achilles heel” of the shale boom:
According to data compiled and analyzed by oilfield analytics firm NavPort for Reuters, output from the average new well in the Permian Basin of West Texas, the top U.S. oilfield, declined 18 percent from peak production through the fourth month of its life in 2015. That is much slower than the 31 percent drop seen for the same time frame in 2012 and the 28 percent decline in 2013, when the oil price crash started. The change was even more dramatic in North Dakota’s Bakken shale, where four-month decline rates for new wells fell to 16 percent in 2015 from almost 31 percent in 2012.
Those are remarkable numbers, truly. So what’s at work here? Innovation, of course. Reuters continues:
Scott Sheffield, chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources Co, a top Permian producer, credited improved fracking techniques for helping stabilize production, which shareholders rewarded by lifting Pioneer’s shares up about 9 percent over the past year. “We’re exposing more of the reservoir and breaking it up so we don’t get as sharp a decline,” Sheffield told a recent energy conference.
Words like shale and fracking have become household names at this point, so it’s easy to forget that this energy revolution isn’t even a decade old yet. As a technology, hydraulic fracturing has been around for more than sixty years, but its deployment in shale formations alongside horizontal well drilling is still very much a novel thing, and plumbing shale for its hydrocarbons is still a fledgling industry, hard as that may be to believe given the extraordinary production increases we’ve seen over the past seven years or so. As such, there’s still plenty of room for improvement, and shale producers have shown themselves to be well up to that task as they continue to refine existing processes and experiment with new ones in an unending search for better ways to drill more oil and gas quicker and more cheaply.
Even with steep shale well decline rates, America’s energy landscape was completely remade by fracking. Now that companies are finding solutions to that problem, well, our domestic energy sector is looking more solid than ever.