Halliburton shows off enhanced-recovery tech at OTC

HOUSTON – When Halliburton took a job two years ago to figure out what was wrong with Devon Energy’s wells in the Barnett Shale, only one in 11 of the wells was any good.

“It was just like a shot-gun scattering of productivity,” said Ron Dusterhoft, a technology fellow with Halliburton, in an interview with FuelFix on Wednesday during the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. “There was no pattern.”

It was one of the first real tests of a new software-driven reservoir modeling process that Halliburton began developing three years ago. Since the U.S. shale boom began, oil companies have found the “80-20 law” to be almost ubiquitous: that 80 percent of oil production comes from 20 percent of shale reservoirs in a given play.

The Cypher program, which went to market in late 2013, was designed to conjure in minutes reservoir models that would take engineers a week to map. And by repeating the modeling process hundreds of times, Halliburton engineers can understand a lot about the deposits that oil producers drill into, Dusterhoft said.

“One of the first things we found out was there was a tremendous amount we didn’t know about these reservoirs,” Dusterhoft said.

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Examining the porosity and permeability of the shale plays led the Houston oil field service company to believe the industry was wrong about the idea that hydraulic fracturing was a cure to poor well placement. Some oil companies thought that fractures in the shale would link all the escaped oil and gas to the well bore.

“We found out that getting the well in the right place was a crucial step,” he said. “The problem with our industry today is that as it becomes more mature, you can’t live with incremental improvement. We need to put the laboratory back in the laboratory and understand the reservoir better and make better choices.”

After modeling Devon’s Barnett reservoirs, a team of geologists from the Oklahoma producer and Halliburton found a single layer in the earth filled with oil and gas. That became their target. Late last year, the team found that one of the wells it treated produced more oil and gas than Devon’s best well had in two years.

“That’s very significant improvement in liquids production right there,” he said. That tells us we’re on the right track with this modeling.”

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Now, Devon is planning to reuse the process on a much broader swath of land in the Eagle Ford, which it bought from GeoSouthern last year for $6 billion, Dusterhoft said. And Halliburton’s program could expand its reach as the shale boom rages.

“I think the Bakken (Shale in North Dakota) is going to be a hot bed” for enhanced oil recovery technology, he said.

Producers in the Bakken Shale are harvesting only 4 percent of the oil locked in shale rock, Rice University’s Charles McConnell said last month. The fact has spurred other oil field service companies to bring enhance-recovery technology to market in the past few months.