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Much has been made of the shale gas revolution in the USA, with production from such reservoirs rising from under 1 Bcfpd in 2003, when fracturing/stimulation, horizontal drilling and 3D/4D seismic were first used, to nearly 20 bcfpd by mid-2011.
As in 20, the top three for 2011 were Fracturing/Stimulation, Horizontal Drilling and 3D/4D Seismic, accumulating between them more than 70% of the responses.
What is more, the same technologies have dominated this survey for all 12 years for which data has been published, invariably accumulating more than 60% of the responses between them.
The red quadrant to the lower left is where combinations to be avoided lie – for example, developing ‘heavy’ oil in fractured ‘basement’ may encounter technology and economic barriers.
Of course this diagram is simplistic and the detail is key.
So if ‘conventional resources’ are defined as light oil or ‘clean’ gas in good poroperm sandstone or carbonate reservoirs, what do we refer to as ‘unconventional resources’ at the moment?
We can think about ‘unconventional hydrocarbons’: examples would include ‘heavy’ oil, ‘sour’ gas, ‘waxy’ crude.One could take the view that the best cash flow from shale gas has, in fact, come to oil field service companies that supply fracturing/stimulation, horizontal drilling and 3D/4D seismic, and to the US ‘resource play’ companies that have sold or farmed-down their shale gas assets.For more detailed reviews of the issues surrounding shale gas, I refer you to the work of the respected petroleum geologist Arthur Berman(1)(2).It is not surprising, therefore, that having learned how to apply the key technologies, these US ‘resource play’ companies are switching their attention to shale oil, in most cases in basins which have a long history of conventional oil exploration and are now in decline.The economics of shale oil are generally better than those for shale gas because of the linkage to global oil prices.The operator has mentioned that the crude oil is ‘waxy’ but has yet to publish any analytical data.‘Heavy’ oil is the result of a poor seal, allowing the light components to evaporate or be consumed by bacteria, leaving a poorly-flowing viscous residue.Or we can think about ‘unconventional reservoirs’: examples would include fractured ‘basement’, ‘tight’ sand stones, shales, coal beds, hydrates – in fact anything other than good poroperm sandstones or carbonates.I have then made the small step of combining all of these in a simple 2 x 2 matrix where we can look at Reservoir up the vertical axis and Hydrocarbon Type along the horizontal.I have then made a call about the status of the technology required (for production) and the corresponding economics, especially when known tech nologies are contemplated offshore.Of the items shown here, only Gas Hydrates truly sit in the ‘unknown technology’ category.