On a conference call in 2011, the always eloquent Clay Williams of National Oilwell Varco (then CFO, now CEO) said:
The unconventional shale model is utterly unlike drilling a generation ago, which saw fleeting glimpses of precious darcy reservoir rock here or there, elusive four-way closure, a rare and fortuitous geologic ancestry which bestowed the structure with charge. When the stars aligned for the lucky explorer, it was elegance. Shale drilling is not elegance. Shale drilling is a brute force enterprise. It hurls massive iron and horsepower at a plentiful, fairly pedestrian rock in exchange for a secure and protected production volume. It is underground shock and awe that makes oil and gas give up and surrender. That is the trade-off — certainty of production volumes in exchange for oilfield iron eaten with voracity.
If that doesn’t make you want to go frac some low permeability rock, something’s wrong. In all seriousness though, Clay perfectly articulated the industry’s state of mind in the early innings of unconventional oil development.
At the time, large stage fracs in tight oil plays had only been conducted on a mass scale for a few years – shale gas completion methods were being imported by operators in tight oil formations. Optimization was still on the horizon.
Nano-darcy rock will always require the brute force of powerful iron, but technologies that provide sub-surface visibility are driving the next wave of industry advancement. In this update we describe the innovation that is occurring right now at length, explaining how this brute force enterprise is finding elegance.
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