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Unconventional Resource Field Development: Transitioning from Pilot Wells to Full Development


A question that is typically asked about Unconventional Resources (also referred to as source rock resources) development is in regards to the strategy associated with field development and how different is such a strategy from Conventional development. The term “sweet spots” has become a synonym for Unconventional reservoirs as many E&P operators in many Unconventional basins have learned the hard way that statistically drilling these wells only has less than 30% commercial success. Moreover, 6 out 10 frac stages are, again commercially, ineffective. Hence, field development strategy from pilot wells to full development plans will need to accommodate the concept of not only “sweet spots” for wells but also “sweet spots” for frac stages. Such a strategy is more complex than conventional reservoir development. A typical pilot well for Unconventional Resource development starts’ with vertical wells and associated seismic data for attribute analysis. Litho-facies is another important piece of information that defines the “continuity” of the “sweet spot” as well as the location of the various “sweet spots” identified by gradational level of sweetness. Ultimately, horizontal well as a pilot well can add tremendous value in validating the impact of lintho-facies and additionally identify locations for the frac stages. In the early stages of development strategy articulation, it is important that the reservoir is understood well and distribution of parameters like natural fracture swarms. Sometimes such natural fracture swarms may not be present at the horizontal wellbore but tens to hundreds of feet away from the wellbore that can be potentially identified using seismic curvature data and deep shear reading logging tools in the horizontal wellbore independently. The paper goes on to discuss how such a development strategy can be simplified and optimized when coinciding analogue information is available from already developed fields and basins. The paper illustrates the methodology of the pilot well portion of the strategy and also the full field development part of the strategy via three case studies: one from a matured development in North America and two emerging development in the Middle East and Far East.