Upstream operators have masterfully used the current downcycle to prepare for the years ahead, achieving stunning efficiencies in drilling and completions even though tweaks and improvements were continuous in the years leading up to late 2014 when oil prices plummeted and kicked off what has arguably been industry’s worst slump.
Some of these advancements “absolutely” would not have happened if not for the downturn, Allen Gilmer, CEO of DrillingInfo.com, said.
One of the first ways operators cut costs and drove what has become known as “efficiencies” was simply getting better at the logistics and coordination of supplies and equipment.
Efficiency gains have varied by operator and play, but results obtained by the best operators “look like step change–two times as much as before per same quality of rock,” Gilmer said.
An even more exciting way that companies improved their cost structure was getting better at how oil was extracted and delivered. And one method that made this happen was better geosteering–the ability “to land in the right spot…the sweet spot” of a reservoir, Muqsit Ashraf, Managing Director for Energy at Accenture Strategy, said.
“You can be off a few feet [from the optimum target] and see significantly different levels of production,” Ashraf said.
In addition, advances in reservoir modeling, lateral logging and measurement-while-drilling allows real-time gauges of the rock’s petrophysical properties and higher productive zones, he said, which are “constantly being perfected.”
With continual technology improvements in geosteering and real-time monitoring as the well is drilled, “you can avoid sidetracks [drilling detours], which are costly, happen more frequently than people expect them to–typically every five to ten wells–and can add hundreds of thousand dollars each time,” Ashraf said.
For example, EOG Resources has publicly stated in the last year that it continues to perfect what it calls “precision targeting” to drill the very best areas of a formation. Instead of landing wells anywhere within a 150-foot window, the company steers them exactly in a much narrower window of around 20 feet, its executives have said.
Other technologies, such as microseismic, allow operators to effectively monitor the hydraulic fracturing process in real time to change perforation spacing–adjusting the number of intervals or sections that require fracturing–and also modifying the fracturing fluid recipe that includes sand and chemicals.
These and other technology advances can improve perforation efficiency from about 50%-60% to as much as 80% or more, Ashraf said, and yield significantly more production from a given well.
“Companies say it enhances net present value [by] one to two million dollars per well,” he said.
In addition, EOG also recently announced it has developed a proprietary enhanced oil recovery technology to use on mature wells in the south Texas Eagle Ford Shale, to force out crude that was missed the first time around.
A recent focus of upstream companies has been to drill the longest laterals that are possible while using geosteering to stay within a zone, Guggenheim analyst Subash Chandra said. A lateral is a well’s horizontal portion.
“The only limit to this is the ability to stimulate the ‘toe’ of the well,” Chandra said.
While 10,000 feet has become a customary lateral length in recent years, big independent Pioneer Natural Resources–one of the first companies to try unconventional technologies to produce oil from West Texas’ Permian Basin–is taking some of its horizontal wells there out to 13,000 feet. Longer laterals allow access to more hydrocarbons per well.
As oil prices climb and operators step up activity these advances will begin to bear fruit that forecasters may be missing in their estimates of future production.
Some market watchers have said that since producers have already migrated to a basin’s sweet spot, it will be difficult to achieve production levels seen over the last two years.
However, with untouched areas underneath currently exploited shale plays and EOR projects yet to get underway; the US could be primed for yet another oil boom.
By Starr Spencer, Senior writer
Something interesting to share?
Join NrgEdge and create your own NrgBuzz today
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 18 March 2019 – Brent: US$67/b; WTI: US$58/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Risk and reward – improving recovery rates versus exploration
A giant oil supply gap looms. If, as we expect, oil demand peaks at 110 million b/d in 2036, the inexorable decline of fields in production or under development today creates a yawning gap of 50 million b/d by the end of that decade.
How to fill it? It’s the preoccupation of the E&P sector. Harry Paton, Senior Analyst, Global Oil Supply, identifies the contribution from each of the traditional four sources.
1. Reserve growth
An additional 12 million b/d, or 24%, will come from fields already in production or under development. These additional reserves are typically the lowest risk and among the lowest cost, readily tied-in to export infrastructure already in place. Around 90% of these future volumes break even below US$60 per barrel.
2. pre-drill tight oil inventory and conventional pre-FID projects
They will bring another 12 million b/d to the party. That’s up on last year by 1.5 million b/d, reflecting the industry’s success in beefing up the hopper. Nearly all the increase is from the Permian Basin. Tight oil plays in North America now account for over two-thirds of the pre-FID cost curve, though extraction costs increase over time. Conventional oil plays are a smaller part of the pre-FID wedge at 4 million b/d. Brazil deep water is amongst the lowest cost resource anywhere, with breakevens eclipsing the best tight oil plays. Certain mature areas like the North Sea have succeeded in getting lower down the cost curve although volumes are small. Guyana, an emerging low-cost producer, shows how new conventional basins can change the curve.
3. Contingent resource
These existing discoveries could deliver 11 million b/d, or 22%, of future supply. This cohort forms the next generation of pre-FID developments, but each must overcome challenges to achieve commerciality.
Last, but not least, yet-to-find. We calculate new discoveries bring in 16 million b/d, the biggest share and almost one-third of future supply. The number is based on empirical analysis of past discovery rates, future assumptions for exploration spend and prospectivity.
Can yet-to-find deliver this much oil at reasonable cost? It looks more realistic today than in the recent past. Liquids reserves discovered that are potentially commercial was around 5 billion barrels in 2017 and again in 2018, close to the late 2030s ‘ask’. Moreover, exploration is creating value again, and we have argued consistently that more companies should be doing it.
But at the same time, it’s the high-risk option, and usually last in the merit order – exploration is the final top-up to meet demand. There’s a danger that new discoveries – higher cost ones at least – are squeezed out if demand’s not there or new, lower-cost supplies emerge. Tight oil’s rapid growth has disrupted the commercialisation of conventional discoveries this decade and is re-shaping future resource capture strategies.
To sustain portfolios, many companies have shifted away from exclusively relying on exploration to emphasising lower risk opportunities. These mostly revolve around commercialising existing reserves on the books, whether improving recovery rates from fields currently in production (reserves growth) or undeveloped discoveries (contingent resource).
Emerging technology may pose a greater threat to exploration in the future. Evolving technology has always played a central role in boosting expected reserves from known fields. What’s different in 2019 is that the industry is on the cusp of what might be a technological revolution. Advanced seismic imaging, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, the cloud and supercomputing will shine a light into sub-surface’s dark corners.
Combining these and other new applications to enhance recovery beyond tried-and-tested means could unlock more reserves from existing discoveries – and more quickly than we assume. Equinor is now aspiring to 60% from its operated fields in Norway. Volume-wise, most upside may be in the giant, older, onshore accumulations with low recovery factors (think ExxonMobil and Chevron’s latest Permian upgrades). In contrast, 21st century deepwater projects tend to start with high recovery factors.
If global recovery rates could be increased by a percentage or two from the average of around 30%, reserves growth might contribute another 5 to 6 million b/d in the 2030s. It’s just a scenario, and perhaps makes sweeping assumptions. But it’s one that should keep conventional explorers disciplined and focused only on the best new prospects.
Global oil supply through 2040
Things just keep getting more dire for Venezuela’s PDVSA – once a crown jewel among state energy firms, and now buried under debt and a government in crisis. With new American sanctions weighing down on its operations, PDVSA is buckling. For now, with the support of Russia, China and India, Venezuelan crude keeps flowing. But a ghost from the past has now come back to haunt it.
In 2007, Venezuela embarked on a resource nationalisation programme under then-President Hugo Chavez. It was the largest example of an oil nationalisation drive since Iraq in 1972 or when the government of Saudi Arabia bought out its American partners in ARAMCO back in 1980. The edict then was to have all foreign firms restructure their holdings in Venezuela to favour PDVSA with a majority. Total, Chevron, Statoil (now Equinor) and BP agreed; ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips refused. Compensation was paid to ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, which was considered paltry. So the two American firms took PDVSA to international arbitration, seeking what they considered ‘just value’ for their erstwhile assets. In 2012, ExxonMobil was awarded some US$260 million in two arbitration awards. The dispute with ConocoPhillips took far longer.
In April 2018, the International Chamber of Commerce ruled in favour of ConocoPhillips, granting US$2.1 billion in recovery payments. Hemming and hawing on PDVSA’s part forced ConocoPhillips’ hand, and it began to seize control of terminals and cargo ships in the Caribbean operated by PDVSA or its American subsidiary Citgo. A tense standoff – where PDVSA’s carriers were ordered to return to national waters immediately – was resolved when PDVSA reached a payment agreement in August. As part of the deal, ConocoPhillips agreed to suspend any future disputes over the matter with PDVSA.
The key word being ‘future’. ConocoPhillips has an existing contractual arbitration – also at the ICC – relating to the separate Corocoro project. That decision is also expected to go towards the American firm. But more troubling is that a third dispute has just been settled by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes tribunal in favour of ConocoPhillips. This action was brought against the government of Venezuela for initiating the nationalisation process, and the ‘unlawful expropriation’ would require a US$8.7 billion payment. Though the action was brought against the government, its coffers are almost entirely stocked by sales of PDVSA crude, essentially placing further burden on an already beleaguered company. A similar action brought about by ExxonMobil resulted in a US$1.4 billion payout; however, that was overturned at the World Bank in 2017.
But it might not end there. The danger (at least on PDVSA’s part) is that these decisions will open up floodgates for any creditors seeking damages against Venezuela. And there are quite a few, including several smaller oil firms and players such as gold miner Crystallex, who is owed US$1.2 billion after the gold industry was nationalised in 2011. If the situation snowballs, there is a very tempting target for creditors to seize – Citgo, PDVSA’s crown jewel that operates downstream in the USA, which remains profitable. And that would be an even bigger disaster for PDVSA, even by current standards.
Infographic: Venezuela oil nationalisation dispute timeline