By: Dan Murtaugh, Lynn Doan, and Bradley Olson (Bloomberg)
The technique itself is nothing new. Oil crews across the world have been schooled on its simple principles for generations: Identify aging, low-output wells and hit them with a blast of sand and water to bolster the flow of crude. The idea originated somewhere in the plains of the American Midwest, back in the 1950s.
But as today’s engineers start applying the procedure to the horizontal wells that went up during the fracking boom that swept across U.S. shale fields over the past decade, something more powerful, more financially rewarding is happening.
The short life span of these wells, long thought to be perhaps the single biggest weakness of the shale industry, is being stretched out. Early evidence of the effects of restimulation suggests that the fields could actually contain enough reserves to last about 50 years, according to a calculation based on Wood Mackenzie Ltd and ITG Investment Research data.
If the word fracking has carved out a spot in the lexicon of Americans as the nation advances toward energy independence, then refracking, as roughnecks have begun calling it, could be next. And for an industry that has been hammered by the 50 percent drop in crude prices over the past year, the finding on the technique’s potential -- at a fraction of the cost of the initial well -- provides a much-needed sense of hope.
The risks abound -- from inadvertently siphoning oil from an adjacent well to ruining a whole reservoir -- and the sample size so far isn’t big enough to be conclusive, but oil giants like Marathon Oil Corp. and ConocoPhillips aren’t waiting to incorporate refracking into their shale operations.
Mike Vincent, a well-completion engineer who teaches the technique to industry workers, said he’s been overwhelmed by the sudden interest in the class. He even had to abandon plans he had been making to spend a week fly-fishing in the Rocky Mountains over the summer. “I’m booked every week teaching refrack classes out to November,” said Vincent, who runs a Denver-based firm called Insight Consulting. “It’s amazing how much passion there is.”
Years of working on traditional wells have shown that they can be restimulated multiple times, Vincent said. In the industry’s lingo, a well that has been blasted five times is a “Cinco de Fraco.” Eight times gets you an “Octofrac.” When done right, the procedure not only boosts the flow of crude, but can also increase the estimate of reserves held in the well. Vincent said it’s common to see oil recovery climb 60 percent or more.
“I’ve seen a well get 10 fracs through the same perfs, and it appears that we’re adding reserves every time,” he said.