Eagle Ford a contender for top U.S. play

Highly productive wells and the vast size of the Eagle Ford Shale are combining to make the South Texas shale play a contender for being the nation’s best, according to a new report.

The report, from information and analytics firm IHS, looked at well performance for oil and oil-rich liquids in the Eagle Ford as well as in the Bakken Shale of North Dakota and Montana, currently the nation’s top play. The Bakken has more wells than the Eagle Ford, but so far, on a per-well basis, the Eagle Ford seems to be producing more than the Bakken.

The Bakken is more established, and the Eagle Ford is still developing.

This IHS report is part of a broader study that’s under way of 27 of the nation’s shale plays.

The IHS analysis shows that “Eagle Ford drilling results appear to be superior to those of the Bakken,” said Andrew Byrne, director of equity research at IHS and the study’s author.

The Bakken shale is the play against which others are measured, Byrne said, because “it was the key play that really opened up development of unconventional resources” using high-tech drilling methods and hydraulic fracturing.

The Bakken first began to show great promise about 12 years ago, Byrne said.

“The results from the Bakken were so strong that it set the standard by which all others will be measured. It was the one play that incited the industry into pursuing these opportunities,” he said.

Now, though, comes the Eagle Ford.

Wells in the Eagle Ford Shale have a stronger flow – 300 to 600 barrels a day or oil and oil-rich liquids, based on average production in a peak month – than in the Bakken, where flow ranges from 150 to 300 barrels a day.

“One of the reasons we really like the Eagle Ford is its potential as a large total resource. It could be one of the best, if not the best, in North America,” Byrne said.

“The Eagle Ford covers such a vast area. That also makes this such a strong play.”

The Eagle Ford sweeps 400 miles from East Texas to counties south of San Antonio and on to the border.

The play “gets uniformly strong results, and that’s making the play look that much bigger and better,” Byrne said.

“All plays essentially have sweet spots. What makes the Eagle Ford so good is that the noncore stuff is delivering strong results also. In some other plays, it’s only the sweet spot that’s economic.”

2012 prediction

The Center for Community and Business Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio has also prepared studies of the Eagle Ford Shale. Center Director Thomas Tunstall predicts that the Eagle Ford Shale will produce 65 million barrels of oil for 2012. Oil production in the Eagle Ford reached 36.6 million barrels in 2011, according to Texas Railroad Commission data.

It’s somewhat difficult to predict production from the shale because the rate of production is accelerating, Tunstall said.

IHS doesn’t yet have an estimate of all the oil that is in the Eagle Ford.

“We’re working on that,” Byrne said.

Last week, Steve Trammel, senior manager of industry affairs for HIS, said in an interview that rig counts are declining in shale plays with much more natural gas than oil because of low natural gas prices.

But drilling is on the rise in shale with oil and “liquids-rich” areas, where wells can tap a mix of oil and condensate, a light oil, and “wet,” or liquid, natural gas, Trammel said.

Looking ahead

In fact, the highest average monthly production in the Eagle Ford is coming from the formation’s liquids-rich window, Byrne said.

Asked which might be the next hot play, Byrne said: “We haven’t officially put out that opinion yet. That will have to be reserved until we finish our study.”

The energy industry is “very creative,” he noted. “It seems like every quarter another play shows up.”

vvaughan@express-news.net