The Eagle Ford shale play in South Texas has plenty to offer. But operators will have to come to grips with its complexities.

That was the message of four panelists during the Oct. 11 morning session of Hart Energy’s DUG Eagle Ford conference in San Antonio. Now that the play has reached the status of “one of the more prolific shale plays,” according to Bruce Matsutsuyu, vice president of exploration and production at Momentum Oil & Gas LLC, it’s time to take a step back to understand exactly what it is that Mother Nature has presented to the industry.

Matsutsuyu began his presentation by discussing the growth of the play in a very short time. “In three short years the Eagle Ford has just exploded,” he said, adding that the areal extent of the play has expanded from 415,000 acres in 2009 to 11.8 million acres in 2011. Of course this “expansion” is based on the industry’s understanding of the play. And while the understanding, and hence expansion, will continue to grow, increasingly it will take geologic understanding to maintain that growth.

For Matsutsuyu, one of the more exciting breakthroughs is happening at the molecular scale. In 2009, Robert Loucks from the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas published images of nanometer-scale pores found in the Barnett shale. The images were obtained using ion milling to create a flat surface on the sample, which was then examined with scanning electron microscopy.

This work has led to a preliminary classification of pore sizes, though more work needs to be done. But by using sequential images, scientists can see the kerogen and the pore spaces.

“It’s a huge advance,” he said.

Another important area of focus is understanding natural fractures, often caused by variations in the stress field. “With the Eagle Ford, we can create a natural laboratory,” he said.

Next on the docket was Dr. Peter Duncan, executive chairman of MicroSeismic Inc.’s board of directors (and founder of the company). Duncan’s company has helped pioneer the use of microseismic measurements during hydraulic fracturing to determine the size and orientation of the fracs.

Duncan said that three “communities” use microseismic data. The first community is completions engineers, who use the data to avoid mechanical failures such as poor cement jobs and geological failures such as fracturing into a fault. The data is also used to improve treatment efficiencies, which