The objective of this paper is to assess how well completion practices and well performance have evolved over time ("time slices") in the tight sands and shales of the Powder River Basin (PRB). This information can provide a foundation for helping operators define more effective well completion practices and thus optimize well performance in an emerging "tight oil" basin.

To start, the authors assembled a "database" containing well completion practices, production data, and geologic information for more than 800 horizontal (Hz) wells targeting three "tight oil" formations --Turner, Frontier, and Mowry--placed on production in the past dozen years. To control for the impact of geologic and reservoir properties on well performance, the authors defined 12 geologically distinct areas ("partitions") for the Turner, Frontier, and Mowry Shale in the Powder River Basin (4 partitions in each formation).

This paper discusses the methodology for establishing "time slices" for each partition within each of the three "tight oil" formations, including (1) taking out, to the extent practical, the effects of geology by partitioning the three "tight oil" formations based on their geologic parameters; (2) using type curves and estimated ultimate recoveries (EURs) to establish a reliable measure of well performance; and (3) rigorously inspecting the production and well completion data to assure a quality dataset.

Partition #2, a high thermal maturity area of the Frontier Sandstone in the western Powder River Basin, helps illustrate the results of the study. Using a dataset of 55 Hz wells, the study found that well performance has steadily improved, with oil EURs increasing from 180 MBbl in 2012-13 to 290 MBbl in 2018-19. Much of this improvement was due to the use of longer Hz laterals, increasing notably from 3,765 ft in 2012-13 to 10,260 ft in 2018-19. More intensive completion practices contributed, as well. For example, the number of frac stages more than doubled, from 17 to 35, and proppant concentrations increased from 1,060 lbs/ft to 1,320 lbs/ft. Finally, the data show diminishing returns to longer laterals and more intensive completion practices. For example, the key performance measure of oil EUR per 1,000 ft of lateral is decreasing. For 2012-13, Hz wells recovered 50 MBbl of oil per 1,000 ft of lateral while the more recent 2018-19 Hz wells only provide 30 MBbl of oil per 1,000 ft of lateral.

Considerable insight can be gained by using "time slices" and geologic partitioning to better understand the relationship between changes in well drilling and completion practices and changes in well performance in emerging "tight oil" plays. The results from this study can also serve as a foundation for subsequent, more intense efforts involving data analytics for defining more optimum well completion practices targeting specified geologic settings and formations.

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