Right-sized completions and improving production rates are leading to improved well economics in the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin. A recent report by Westwood Global Energy Group revealed that since 2015 the D-J Basin’s average 90-day cumulative oil production has increased by 61%, leading some operators to increase their investments as commodity prices have similarly climbed.
Citing a study by Energent, Westwood reported the D-J Basin’s average 90-day cumulative production has increased from about 25,000 bbl/d in 2015 to 40,000 bbl/d through 2017. In its July Drilling Productivity Report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported oil production in the Niobrara region continues to see all-time high production, climbing to 600,000 bbl/d through June, an increase of about 6,000 bbl/d through May. Those production gains have coincided with operators extending the basin’s average well lateral length from 1,829 m (6,000 ft) in 2015 to 2,743 m (9,000 ft) this year.
Last year Anadarko reported in the first quarter of the year that in Colorado it was testing new completion designs that involved increased fluid volumes and tighter stage spacing. The new design, according to Westwood, features low-proppant slickwater fractures that use 72% less proppant. According to Energent, the new design led to 10% cumulative oil gains and a 20% increase in EURs.
And despite regulatory risks in the region due to upcoming state elections and possible regulatory and environmental restrictions, operators are committing to producing the D-J Basin. According to Westwood, Anadarko Petroleum announced a $950-million capex plan, running five drilling rigs. HighPoint Resources has allocated up to $550 million with three drilling rigs and extraction oil and gas plans expenditures of $900 million.
HighPoint’s XRL enhanced well completion designs have netted the operator production gains of 47% since 2015, from about 50,000 bbl/d after 12 months to more than 80,000 bbl/d over the same period in 2017. Those completion designs feature a higher number of stages—82 in 2017 compared to 55 in 2015—and increased proppant loads of about 1,500 lb/ft. The company has ramped up its XRL program, completing 44 such wells in 2017 compared to 29 in 2015.
While producers continue to ramp up drilling and production operations, they also are being mindful of the unique environment in which they operate.
“Operators have focused on efficient operations through water infrastructure investments to recycle freshwater, box solutions to store frack sand to reduce truck traffic and quiet frack fleets to reduce noise pollution,” Westwood reported. Anadarko reported in its first-quarter investor report that its entire D-J Basin completion fleet features equipment with noise reduction technology.
The D-J Basin’s propensity as both a quality gas and oil play and its geographic setting in one of the most environmentally conscious areas of North America make it unique among shale plays. Although it likely will never be an oil-producing behemoth like the Permian Basin or rival the Marcellus-Utica for gas production, its economics and rightsized completion designs are drawing more attention and more investments from operators.