Saturday, February 21, 2009

An Excellent Summary Of Unconventional Gas (and oil) Plays In The US

The following is a well-written and fairly detailed summary of the status of so-called unconventional shale gas, (and some oil) plays taking place in the United States as of August, 2008. It seems the economic benefits of this activity is going relatively unnoticed, compared to all the emphasis on "green" energy. Green meaning solar, wind and geothermal energy. It does make one wonder who is controlling or influencing what the mainstream media reports.

Note, one of the keys to the success of these new plays is horizontal drilling, and of course, the interpretation of these horizontal wells. This kind of interpretation presents a totally new challenge to geologists and engineers, something that can not be taken lightly.

ARCHIVE August 2008

Vol. 229 No. 8
Unconventional plays grow in number after Barnett Shale blazed the way
The Haynesville and Marcellus are becoming exciting new gas plays, while activity in the Woodford and Fayetteville continues.

Katrina Boughal , Technical Editor (source)

Unconventional gas plays in the US have been booming since technological advances increased production in the now-famous Barnett Shale. Horizontal drilling and fracture stimulation in the shale source rock, as opposed to the sandstone/limestone/dolomite reservoir rock, have proved to be successful not only in gas plays like the Barnett, Fayetteville and Woodford, but also in the Bakken-a primarily oil-rich formation.

Resources that were previously thought to be unrecoverable are now being reassessed and, in some cases, rediscovered. Many shale plays have been producing a small amount of gas for years (the Indiana and Kentucky New Albany Shale since the late 1880s), but with the Barnett example, they are becoming more successful. Hot plays in the industry include the Louisiana/Texas Haynesville and Bossier Shales, and the Marcellus of Pennsylvania/Appalachia. The Williston Basin Bakken Formation has also gained popularity after a recent reassessment by the USGS.

The fairly recent Haynesville gas play, having garnered attention over the past few months, is an Upper Jurassic formation overlain by the Cotton Valley Group, and lies over the Smackover Formation. The Haynesville is an ultra-low permeability shale, and is focused in northwest Louisiana and East Texas, particularly in Caddo, Bossier and DeSoto Parishes, but also to a lesser extent in Red River and Sabine Parishes, and Harrison and Panola Counties, Fig. 1. The Haynesville Shale underlies the Bossier Shale (part of the Cotton Valley Group), and they are sometimes referred to as the same unit or related units. 2 Deeper than most shale gas plays, the Haynesville is located at depths ranging between 11,000 and 13,000 ft. 3

Fig. 1 . Map of the Haynesville Shale play (shaded). 1

is a large participant in the Haynesville play, holding about 550,000 acres as of late June 2008, with plans to acquire more acreage. Chesapeake entered a joint venture with Plains Exploration and Production, and the companies plan to drill about 600 wells in the Haynesville in the next three years. Chesapeake is estimating a mid-point estimated ultimate reserve of 6.5 Bcf, and their initial horizontal production rates are encouraging for the play.
“The initial production rates on the eight horizontal wells we have completed have ranged from 5 to 15 MMcfd on restricted chokes at flowing casing pressures of up to 6,500 psi,” said Chesapeake CEO Aubrey K. McClendon. 4

Petrohawk is also an active participant with about 275,000 acres, and completed their first horizontal well in the Haynesville in late June 2008. The Elm Grove Plantation #63, drilled in Bossier Parish, encountered about 212 ft of Haynesville Shale, and produced at a rate of 16.8 MMcfd. Completion of Elm Grove Plantation #63 included 11 stages of fracture stimulation. Petrohawk is drilling three horizontal wells, and expects to be operating six rigs in the Haynesville by mid-September 2008. 5

Companies are scrambling to lease plots in the Haynesville, with Forest Oil announcing in late June 2008 a net holding of 90,000 acres in the area. 6 GMX Resources added 7,300 net acres in early July, bringing its total acreage to 27,500. 7 EnCana has about 325,000 acres in the Haynesville, and completed a horizontal well in February with an initial production rate of 8 MMcfd. 8

A few years ago the Fayetteville Shale experienced an upswing in interest somewhat akin to what the Haynesville is experiencing now. The Fayetteville of Arkansas is a Mississippian formation on the eastern end of the Arkoma Basin, with thicknesses varying between 50 and 300 ft and drilled at depths ranging from 2,000 to 6,000 ft. Thickness in the Fayetteville differs from east to west, at about 50 to 75 ft thick in western Arkansas to about 300 ft at the eastern edge of the Arkoma Basin. The formation is productive from its middle to base because the lower section is rich in organic material, with chert and siliceous interbedding. 9 The unit is thermally mature, and is differentiated from surrounding units by high radioactivity and resistivity signatures. 10

The Fayetteville is found in multiple eastern and central Arkansas counties, including Cleburne, Conway, Faulkner, Franklin, Jackson, St. Francis, Pope, Prairie, Van Buren, White and Woodruff Counties. The Fayetteville is about the same age and is seen as a geologic equivalent to the Barnett Shale near Fort Worth.

The Fayetteville followed the Barnett in production technology. As with other shale gas plays, the Fayetteville was previously known to be a gas-bearing formation, but only produced when horizontal drilling and fracture stimulation were introduced. 8 Some 460 of the over 500 producing wells in the Fayetteville are horizontal, and total production from the shale has reached, and likely exceeded, 52 Bcf. 11

Rig counts in the Arkansas Arkoma Basin have increased dramatically in the past two years. In August 2006, the rig count hovered at slightly over 20. In early July 2008, the count was at 59 operating rigs, with most located in Van Buren, White and Conway Counties. Southwestern Energy was operating 18 of the 59 rigs (about 31%) in the Arkansas Arkoma Basin during the first week of July 2008. 12 Southwestern, one of the most dominant players in the region, owns about 851,100 acres in the Fayetteville area, and has completed 557 wells in the play as of March 2008, of which about 88% were horizontal. During the company’s first quarter 2008, estimated 2007 production from the Fayetteville was 53.5 Bcf. 13

Chesapeake holds the largest land area in the play with 1.1 million acres, and in March 2008, had a net production of 130 MMcfd from the Fayetteville. Chesapeake had 12 rigs operating in March 2008, and plans to escalate drilling activity to 25 rigs in the play by early 2009. 14

In 2002, the USGS released an assessment of the undiscovered oil and gas in the Appalachian Basin Province. The Marcellus Shale was characterized as an individual assessment unit in the Appalachian Basin region that contained gas resources of about 1.9 Tcf. 15

The Marcellus had been fairly quiet until recently, when in late 2007 Range Resources announced horizontal well test rates from 1.4 MMcfd to 4.7 MMcfd. Shortly after, in January 2008, Pennsylvania State University and the University of New York at Fredonia released a report estimating recoverable reserves at 50 Tcf. Since then, The New York Times and USA Today have run stories on the Marcellus and the formation’s producing potential.

The Marcellus Shale is part of a large suite of rocks known as the Devonian shales, and stretches NE-SW about 600 mi across several Appalachian states, including New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Fig. 2. 16 The naturally fractured, dry gas-producing Marcellus covers an area of about 54,000 square mi, 17 and ranges in thickness from 50 to 200 ft. Like the Fayetteville, the Marcellus thins from east to west, with 200-ft sections in northeastern Pennsylvania and 50-ft sections in northern West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and western New York. The formation depth ranges from 5,000 to 8,000 ft below sea level. 18
Fig. 2 . Map of the Marcellus and Devonian Shales. 16

The organic richness of the Marcellus, however, decreases generally from north in New York to south in West Virginia. The thermal maturity of the shale is an estimated 1.5 to 3% vitrinite reflectance (Ro). 18

As of April 2008, Range Resources held about 1.15 million acres of the Marcellus play, and had drilled 10 successful horizontal wells with initial production rates ranging from 2.6 to 5.8 MMcfd. 19 Other players in the Marcellus include Atlas Energy Resources and Chesapeake (largest lease holder with 1.2 million acres). Atlas, whose drilling plan is focused primarily in southwestern Pennsylvania, announced in February that it had 21 producing vertical wells, with 6 more due to be completed and producing shortly. 20

Marcellus players face the problem of minimal public information on the area, and have to resort to academic papers and regional geologic information due to the lack of log data. Oilfield services and equipment in the area are also somewhat scarce, with only four or six Appalachian rigs capable of drilling horizontal wells. 16

Activity in the Woodford Shale began in 2003-2004 as a vertical play, but quickly transitioned to horizontal wells after the Barnett became horizontally driven. 21

The Woodford Shale is located in Oklahoma on the western end of the Arkoma Basin, and ranges in age from Middle Devonian to Early Mississippian. The stratigraphic equivalent to the Bakken and Antrim Shales, the Woodford shows a wide range of thermal maturities from 0.7 to 4.89% Ro?. Although known to be a gas-producing formation, the Woodford may have the potential to produce oil as well, 22 and the silica-rich shale has provided a good environment for fracturing due to its brittle nature. 21

The Woodford has seen many players in the area including Newfield Exploration, Devon, Chesapeake and XTO Energy. Newfield has about 165,000 net acres in the Woodford, is looking to drill about 100 horizontal wells this year and had a gross production of 165 MMcfd as of February 2008.23 Drilling depths for Newfield have ranged from 6,000 to 13,000 ft, with lateral lengths to about 5,000 ft. 21

For a more in-depth discussion on the characteristics and production potential of the Woodford Shale, please see page 83.

No unconventional play article would be complete without a mention of the Barnett. The very well-known Barnett Shale is the gas play that introduced horizontal drilling and fracture stimulation techniques to the unconventional shale gas field, allowing other plays’ production potential to be realized. Indeed, every time a new shale gas play is discovered, it is compared to the Barnett, or is called the “next Barnett” or a “baby Barnett.”
The Mississippian Barnett in the Fort Worth Basin of Texas is about 6,500 to 8,000 ft deep, and thickens toward the northeast-from about 30 to 50 ft thick in the south to about 1,000 ft thick in the northeast. 24

At the end of 2007, the total number of Barnett producing wells over time was at about 8,960, with cumulative production of 3.69 Tcf and 11.6 million bbl of oil. The rate of production from 8,435 active Barnett wells in December 2007 was 3.524 Bcfd plus 7,477 bpd. From 2003 to 2007, horizontal wells have become the dominant well orientation. In 2003, about 21% of wells completed in the Barnett were horizontal; in 2007, about 94% were horizontal. 25
The Barnett continues as the giant that it has become in the past five years. The players list in the Barnett is exhaustive, with Devon, Chesapeake, XTO, Encana, EOG and others. Devon has drilled more than 1,300 wells in the Barnett since 2002, and produces nearly 600 MMcfd. 26

The April 2008 USGS assessment of the Bakken Formation in the Williston Basin has caused a flurry of activity in the area, particularly because of the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil resource estimation-between 3.0 and 4.3 billion bbl. The large increase in the Bakken’s recoverable resources (formerly estimated by the USGS at 151 million bbl in 1995) is due to the same factor that has lead to expanding shale gas plays: advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

The Upper Devonian-Early Mississippian Bakken is a continuous, 200,000-sq mi formation composed of sandstone, siltstone and dolomite bounded by two shale layers. Average porosity in the Bakken is between 8% and 12%, and permeability ranges from 0.05 mD to 0.5 mD. The Bakken is about 2-mi deep, and has a net thickness of about 6 ft to 15 ft. Key players in the region include EOG Resources, Whiting Petroleum, Brigham Exploration, Hess, Newfield Exploration, XTO and Marathon. 27 For a more comprehensive view on the Bakken assessment, please see World Oil June 2008, page 83.

There are a multitude of unconventional shale plays being assessed, and the following are a few from various parts of the US.
Utica. Located in New York, northern Pennsylvania, Quebec and Ontario, the Utica Shale is an Upper Ordovician reservoir with typical low permeability, high organic content and varying thickness-the formation ranges from 150 to 1,000 ft across New York. The Utica’s close proximity to the Marcellus makes it interesting, but recently drilled Utica wells have “not responded well to the normal shale fracturing practices.” 28 Forest Oil has acquired 269,000 net acres of the Quebec Utica, and in April 2008, reported 1 MMcfd production rates from two 4,800-ft vertical wells. 29

This Devonian shale formation extends across a large part of the US, although the gas play is centered in southern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama, Fig. 3. Sources cite the Chattanooga as being an equivalent to both the Marcellus and the Woodford Shales, all of which are Devonian formations. 30,31

Fig. 3 . Map of the Chattanooga Shale play (shaded). 30

The USGS reported in 2007 on the petroleum system of the Black Warrior Basin in Alabama and Mississippi that encompasses part of the Chattanooga Shale. The USGS report focused on the carbonates and sandstones, and discussed the Floyd and Chattanooga Shales as source rocks alone-no unconventional shale gas assessment was released. The Chattanooga is a Devonian-age shale that is separated from the Mississippian-age Floyd Shale by a thin layer of chert and limestone, and they are often referred in relation to each other. The Alabama Chattanooga play lies in the eastern Black Warrior Basin, and is a thin unit with a Total Organic Carbon (TOC) weight percent range of 2.4-12.7. 32 The Tennessee Chattanooga play is relatively shallow compared to other gas plays with depths ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 ft. 33

In 2007, CNX Gas Corp. drilled a horizontal well in Tennessee with an initial production rate of 3.9 MMcfd. 34 Atlas Energy Resources announced in June 2008 the successful drilling of four horizontal wells in the formation. 35

Floyd. In close contact with the Chattanooga Shale, the Floyd play is situated in the Black Warrior Basin of Mississippi and Alabama. The formation is primarily shale, but also contains clay, sandstone and limestone beds, with chert and large siderite modules. 32 Found at depths from about 4,000 ft to 9,000 ft below surface level, 36 the Floyd thickens toward the northeast, with a maximum thickness of about 600 ft, and has a TOC percent weight of about 1.8. The Floyd is believed to be the source rock for the conventional reservoirs in the area. 32 Carrizo Oil and Gas drilled a horizontal well in the Floyd in July 2007,37 and Murphy Oil drilled several wells in 2006. 38 With minimal news concerning the Floyd in 2008, play activity seems to have slowed down.

New Albany.
Found in the Illinois Basin, the New Albany Shale is a mostly Devonian-aged formation (the top few feet of the unit are Mississippian) that spans Kentucky, Indiana and, to a smaller extent, Illinois. The New Albany can be correlated with the Antrim Shale of Michigan and Indiana, and the Chattanooga Shale of Tennessee. 39 The New Albany gas play has been focused in Kentucky and southeastern Indiana. Formation thickness varies-the shale is about 100 to 140 ft thick in southeastern Indiana and almost 340 ft thick farther southwest in the Illinois Basin. 40 The USGS released a report in 2007 on the Illinois Basin that assessed the undiscovered, technically recoverable gas resources of the New Albany Shale at 3.79 Tcf. 41 Aurora Oil and Gas reported an average production of 424 Mcfd from their New Albany holdings in the first quarter 2008. 42 CNX Gas drilled six wells in the New Albany in 2007 to determine reservoir information and future drilling locations. 34

As the Barnett proves to be continually successful, shale plays, oil and gas, are looking to be important in the future.
There are already whispers of the Haynesville being the next Barnett, and although those rumors have been heard before about other plays, expect to hear about the Haynesville, and the Bakken and Marcellus, in the months to come.

“Core leasing area: Haynesville Shale map,” Haynesville Shale Map,, accessed July 7, 2008.
2 Welborn, V., “What is the Haynesville Shale?” Shreveport Times , July 7, 2008.
3 “Shale gas fever drives land drilling in US,” Platts Oilgram News , July 4, 2008, pg. 6.
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6 “Forest Oil increases holdings in E. Texas, N. La,”, June 30, 2008,, accessed July 10, 2008.
7 “GMX Resources Inc. announces Haynesville/Bossier Shale drilling to begin 3Q08,” Prime Newswire, July 7, 2008,, accessed July 10, 2008.
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17 Mayhood, K., “Low down, rich and stingy,” The Columbus Dispatch , March 11, 2008.
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20 “Atlas Energy Resources, LLC increases estimated reserve potential from Marcellus Shale to between 4 and 6 Tcf,” Reuters, Feb. 21, 2008,, accessed July 14, 2008.
21 Brown, D., “Big potential boost the Woodford,” AAPG Explorer , July 2008.
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