Turning to frack tech, stricken U.S. oil drillers test new limits

Sun Mar 13, 2016 9:28am EDT
 
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By Devika Krishna Kumar

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fifty-stage frack jobs. Fifteen-foot cluster spacing. More than 2,000 pounds of proppant concentrate per foot.

Top U.S. shale producers are pushing fracking technology to new extremes to get more oil out of their wells, as they weather lower-for-longer oil prices.

While the impact of the techniques may be scarcely noticeable on current U.S. output with so few wells in operation, it could mean drillers are able to accelerate production more fiercely than ever once prices recover.

The hunt for the next big technology to transform the process of fracking is still on, with companies looking at methods such as using carbon dioxide to coax more oil out of wells that have already been hydraulically fractured.

Commentary from executives in recent weeks suggests they are doubling down on existing accomplishments and innovations to boost production.

Pioneer Natural Resources is increasing the length of stages in its wells, Hess Corp is raising the total number of stages, EOG Resources is drilling in extremely tight windows, while Whiting Petroleum Corp and Devon Energy Corp have loaded up more sand in their wells, fourth-quarter earnings call comments show.

Sector experts say these techniques could boost initial output per well by between 5 and 50 percent, demonstrating the resilience of the industry.

"We have got to keep moving ahead in terms of our knowledge base so that when things improve we can hit it with all cylinders," Pioneer COO, Tim Dove, said on a recent quarterly results call.   Continued...

 
A pumpjack brings oil to the surface  in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson