In low-price periods, unconventional resource producers measure success largely by their ability to keep operating costs low.
But for Dan Georgi, team lead for reservoir engineering technology at the Aramco Houston Research Center, the best strategy moves beyond tweaking fluids and well design.
“In the North American unconventionals market, companies tend to take a Monte Carlo approach: drill a hole, frac and see what happens,” he said. (The Monte Carlo reference refers to a statistical method that measures risk by using a large number of random variables.)
“There is a tendency to focus more on how to do a better job of frac’ing and reducing costs than thinking about what’s there and what is going to be produced,” he said.
Georgi is seeking a more scientific approach to the unconventional development model in his work at Aramco, where he leads a multi-disciplinary team that uses simulation and research to help to optimize production in shale and tight gas formations.
The team employs a combination of high-resolution imaging, nuclear magnetic resonance, vapor absorption, geochemical analysis and core analysis to identify potential productive source rock reservoirs and quantify hydrocarbons in place. They also use reservoir simulation to estimate flow rates and predict estimated ultimate recovery.
“We are focused exclusively on research to support the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s push to reduce the reliance on liquid fuels for local energy needs and to provide petroleum feedstock for a growing petrochemical industry,” he said.
Unconventional resources are seen as a key contributor to Saudi Arabia’s domestic energy source for electricity generation and water desalination.
The project receives support from the Aramco Research Center in Houston as well as Saudi Aramco headquarters in Dhahran.
More Science and Finesse
Georgi, who started working with unconventional resources at Baker Hughes in 2005, said that while unconventional work in the Kingdom benefits from experience in North America, Saudi Arabia has some significant differences.
“Given the fact that there are fewer well penetrations in Saudi Arabia than in North America, locating and optimizing production with the drill bit is more challenging for the development of unconventional rock reservoirs,” he said.
Georgi said his team hopes to help Aramco minimize the number of fractures and still be effective. Their success will be measured by their ability to help operators avoid fracturing wells that would be unsuccessful because they don’t have the right properties.
“If we are successful, we will be able to say ‘This well will be productive, and this won’t,” he said. “If we’re really successful, we can say ‘drill to this depth and then go horizontal.’”
While the team’s work focuses on Saudi Arabia exclusively, they are gaining experience that can be applied elsewhere.
“Service companies for years have talked about geometric frac’ing. Why haven’t we gotten away from it? We don’t have anything smarter right now?” he said, “The prevailing thought has been, ‘If we don’t know where we should frac, we might as well space wells equally.”
Georgi said his team aims to “put more science and finesse into the process” and to be able to provide an intelligent recommendation of where to put stages in fracturing horizontal wells.
“We’ve got some early results, and I’m proud of them,” he said.