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Optimize Effective Fracture Area: Can Less Really Deliver More?

Harold D. Brannon and Thomas R. Starks II, BJ Services Company

This paper was prepared for presentation at the 2009 SPE Hydraulic Fracturing Technology Conference held in The Woodlands, Texas, USA, 1921 January 2009.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not

been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum

Engineers, its officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited.

Permission to reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of SPE

copyright.

Abstract

Hydraulic fracture deliverability is largely defined by the fracture area exhibiting sufficient conductivity contrast

within the productive reservoir interval. Increasing effective fracture area has typically been addressed by

employing larger treatments and proppant volumes, resulting in increased stimulation treatment costs, which

unless accompanied by similar increase in the value of the incremental well productivity, has negative

implications on ROFI.

The introduction of ultra-lightweight proppants having superior proppant transportability relative to conventional

proppants and sufficient strength to withstand the harsh environments has spurred renewed interest in the

application of proppant partial monolayers (PMLs). A properly placed partial monolayer exhibits conductivity

equivalent to packed fractures having greater than ten proppant layers. The enhanced transportability of the

ULW proppants allows for distribution over a much greater portion of the created fracture area. Thus, ULW

proppant partial monolayers equate to a high conductivity fracture with much reduced volumes of proppant

distributed across a larger area than can be achieved with conventional proppants. Case histories of PML

fracturing treatments have consistently illustrated stimulated production increases well beyond expectations,

effectively validating the productivity benefits of the process. This paper compares effective fracture area,

fracture conductivity, and resultant production simulations for ULW proppants partial monolayer fracturing

treatment designs with those of conventional proppant packed fractures. Normalized stimulation costs of the

respective treatment designs are subsequently compared with the stimulated fracture deliverability to assess

the respective Return-On-Fracture-Investment.

Introduction

Successful well stimulation requires the created fracture pathways to provide permeability orders of magnitude

greater than the reservoir matrix permeability. Proppant is placed to increase the conductivity of the fractures,

providing a highway for flow of hydrocarbons between the reservoir and the producing wellbore. Thus, proper

placement of the proppant is perhaps the most critical facet of a fracture stimulation as it largely defines the

ultimate deliverability. Effective fracture area is that portion of created fracture area which exhibits sufficient

conductivity contrast within the productive reservoir interval to promote accelerated drainage of reservoir. The

effective fracture area is characterized by the conductive fracture height and length, and is often compromised

by the inability to place the proppant throughout the created fracture area. It is well accepted that stimulation of

well performance may be accomplished by optimizing the fracture area for efficient drainage of the reservoir.

Fracture conductivity is a measure of the flow capacity of an area within a fracture, and is defined as the areal

fracture permeability multiplied by the fracture width. Attention needs to be given to the conductivity of this flow

path in order to optimize the production rate and recovery. Fracture conductivity improvement efforts have

typically focused on the physical characteristics of the propping agents, increasing the propped fracture width

(or proppant volume), and minimizing damage to the propped fracture.

Ultra-Lightweight Proppants

Proppant development has historically been directed to improvement of the proppant strength to allow

application in higher stress environments. Successful efforts to increase proppant strength have previously

2 SPE 119385

been somewhat synonymous with increased proppant particle density, which has negative implications on

proppant transport, particularly in the case of low viscosity fracturing fluids such as slickwater1. Ultra-

Lightweight (ULW) proppants were commercially introduced in 2004, exhibiting both lower specific gravities

and the requisite mechanical properties to successfully function as a fracturing proppant at reservoir

temperature and stress conditions2-4. The ULW proppants have been shown to provide sufficient strength for

application in reservoirs with closure pressures up to 8,000 psi and BHSTs exceeding 275F. The original

ULW proppants were comprised resin-modified walnut hulls with an apparent specific gravity of 1.25. The most

recently introduced ULW proppant is a heat-treated, thermoset nanocomposite having an apparent specific

gravity of 1.05. The greater transportability provided by the low density ULW proppants allows for fracturing

fluids of lesser viscosity to be used to accomplish effective proppant placement. Where applicable, low

viscosity fluids are preferable due to the mitigation of any residual damage to fracture permeability associated

with polymeric gelling agents used as viscosifiers. The ULW proppants have been employed widely with

slickwater fluids to yield near neutrally buoyant proppant slurry, efficiently minimizing proppant settling within

the created fracture. ULW proppant provides greater propped fracture width (and therefore, conductivity) than

an equivalent mass of the heavier conventional proppants due to the low specific gravity of the ULW proppants

being manifested as a greater pack volume per unit of mass. For example, one pound of a ULW proppant with

an SG of 1.05 occupies an equivalent volume of greater than that of 2.5 pounds of similarly sized sand.

Low S.G. Proppant and/or Reduced Proppant Size - Proppant Settling & Transport Considerations

The settling rate of proppant in a fracturing fluid is strongly influenced by the specific gravity of the proppant. As

the respective particle density or specific gravity of a proppant particle increases, so too does the settling rate,

even in a crosslinked fluid. Proppant settling rate is typically characterized using Stokes Law, which defines

the fundamentals of a single particle settling in a column of water. Stokes Law discloses four parameters

which influence proppant settling velocity: the fluid specific gravity, the fluid viscosity, the proppant size and,

the proppant specific gravity. The fluid considered in this study is slickwater having a fluid specific gravity of 1.0

and a fluid viscosity of 1 to 3 cps. Therefore, the fluid parameters are effectively fixed, leaving the proppant

parameters as variables. Median proppant diameter, representing particle size, is a squared term. Reducing

the particle diameter by one half has the effect of reducing the settling rate by a factor of four. Conventional

proppants of smaller sizes are commonly employed in slickwater fracturing treatments to improve transport

(i.e., 40/70 proppant in lieu of 20/40). Proppant size is also proportional to proppant pack conductivity, thus

proppant size reduction for transport purposes must be weighed versus the need to for fracture conductivity,

significantly affecting the degree of settling rate reduction which may be achieved by reducing proppant

diameter. For example, the median diameter of a 20/40 mesh proppant is typically about 600 microns, and that

of a 40/70 mesh proppant is about 300 microns. As previously stated, proppant diameter is a squared term in

Stokes Law, thus the reduction of proppant diameter by 50% suggests a 4-fold reduction in settling. However,

the conductivity of a 40/70 mesh proppant is only about 10 to 20% that of the 20/40 proppant, so in this case,

reducing settling by a 75% is achieved at a cost of up to 90% loss of conductivity. This is likely the practical

limit by which proppant size reduction to minimize settling may be employed.

0 10

LWC - 2 0 / 4 0

-2

S a nd - 2 0 / 4 0

ft/min

-4

MHV ST , ft/min

LWC - 4 0 / 8 0

-6

ULW- 1.2 5 14 / 3 0

-8

Settling Velocity

S a nd - 4 0 / 7 0 1

-10

ULW- 1.2 5 2 0 / 4 0

-12

S a nd 7 0 / 14 0

-14

ULW- 1.0 5 14 / 4 0

-16

ULW- 1.2 5 4 5 / 6 5 0.1

-18 S a nd - 2 0 / 4 0 LWC - 4 0 / 8 0

ULW- 1.0 5 4 0 / 10 0 ULW- 1.2 5 2 0 / 4 0 ULW- 1.0 5 14 / 4 0

-20 ULW- 1.2 5 4 5 / 6 5 ULW- 1.0 5 4 0 / 10 0

Figure 1 Settling Rate for Proppant Types & Sizes Figure 2 MHVST for Proppant Types and Sizes

Proppant specific gravity has recently been exploited as a means to improve proppant transport and placement

by the commercial introduction of ultra-lightweight proppant5, 6. Stokes Law settling rates show that ultra-

lightweight proppants settle significantly more slowly than heavier, conventional sand or ceramic proppants. As

the specific gravity of the proppant approaches the specific gravity of the fluid, a near neutrally buoyant

SPE 119385 3

condition is approached and the proppant settling velocity nears zero. Single particle setting rates in water

were calculated for various sizes of sand, lightweight ceramic proppant, and ultra-lightweight proppants. As

shown in Figure 1, 20/40-sized conventional proppants exhibit Stokes settling rates of greater than or equal to

16 ft/min.

Employment of a smaller sized conventional proppants is not nearly as effective in reducing proppant settling

rate as reducing the particle specific gravity, as evidenced by the 40/80 LWC proppants exhibiting a settling

rate of 8 ft/min compared to 0.8 ft/min for the 14/40 ULW-1.05. Smaller size, near buoyant ULW proppants

were observed to settle at rates as low as the 0.08 ft/min observed for the 40/100 ULW-1.05 proppant. In

contrast, for sand and ceramic proppants, reducing proppant diameter to facilitate reduction of static settling

rate in slickwater to the range of 2 ft/min is the practical benefit which may be recognized.

Proppant Transport

Whereas the Stokes Law calculations provide a good comparison of the relative static settling tendencies of

the proppants, fluids are rarely in a static condition during the proppant placement portion of fracturing

treatments. To better understand the settling tendencies in a dynamic environment, extensive testing was

conducted in a large-scale slot apparatus to evaluate the relative effects of various component and treatment

parameters on the proppant transport capability of various slurry compositions 5,6. These large-scale slot

testing data were processed to determine the minimum horizontal slurry velocities necessary for proppant

transport using the respective slurry compositions, resulting in a model which has a form resembling the

Stokes Law equation with a coefficient multiplier to account for the dynamic properties. The model provides

the capability to estimate the distance a proppant may be transported into a fracture prior to settling, with the

presumption being that the distance from the wellbore at which the velocity falls below the estimated minimum

horizontal velocity necessary for suspension transport (MHVST) approximates the propped fracture length. In a

typical fracture, the horizontal velocity of slurry may decline by 1.5 orders of magnitude in the first per 100 ft of

distance from the wellbore. For example, for an injection velocity of 17 ft/min exiting the perforations, the

velocity decays to about 0.5 ft/min at a distance of 100 ft from the wellbore, and by the time it has reached 300

ft. the velocity decays to about 0.05 ft/min.

Figure 2 shows the calculated MHVST for several proppants. A minimum velocity of 8.1 ft/min is necessary to

maintain transport of 20/40 sand, whereas 1.9 ft/min is necessary to transport the smaller 40/80 mesh LW

ceramic proppant. The MHVST for ULW proppants were much lower, as a velocity of 0.35 ft/min was observed

to transport 14/40 ULW-1.05, and only 0.04 ft/min is required for a smaller 40/100 ULW-1.05. Comparison

suggests that ULW proppants will be transported far more deeply into a fracture perhaps to several hundreds

of feet. Propped fracture area is directly proportional to propped fracture length, so the lesser transported

distance of a proppant, the lower the propped fracture area and stimulation efficiency. The transport distance

may be improved by increasing the injection rate, reducing the injection height, decreasing the frac width, or

enhancing the fluid efficiency. Owing to the much lower velocities necessary to maintain suspension transport,

the ULW proppants may be transported much greater distances. The more favorable MHVST of the ULW

proppants also provides for better coverage of the created fracture height than can be achieved using

conventional proppants prone to settling into relatively near-wellbore proppant beds or dunes. Modeling and

evaluation of fracturing treatments using slickwater must include the effects of proppant settling to properly

estimate the size of the resultant effective fracture area.

Darin and Huitt reported the results of a study of fracture flow capacity based upon evaluation of the

permeability of propped fractures in SPE-1291 in 19597. The study demonstrated that an areal proppant

concentration below that of a full proppant monolayer may yield conductivity much higher than that of not only

a full monolayer, but of even proppant packs comprised of several layers. The disclosure of the high degree of

fracture conductivity provided by a partial monolayer of proppant was thought to provide a means to achieve

high fracture conductivity by placing a minimal amount of proppant. The grains of a full proppant monolayer or

a multi-layer proppant bed are envisioned to be closely packed with grains touching neighbor grains, whereas

proppant partial monolayers have vacant area around and between the individual proppant grains.

The relationship of fracture conductivity to areal concentration of 20/40 mesh sand is shown at low closure

stress in Figure 3. Annotation is provided to illustrate the number of layers associated with the respective

proppant concentration. The predicted fracture conductivity can be seen to peak at an areal concentration of

about 0.1 lb/ft2 which in this case is approximately one-half of a monolayer. A concentration of greater than 4.0

lb/ft2 is necessary to attain a similar level of conductivity with a multi-layered pack. Historical recommendation

4 SPE 119385

has been to strive for 20/40 sand concentrations of at least 1 lbm/ft2, more preferably for 2 lbm/ft2. However, in

high rate water frac or slickwater applications, average proppant concentrations are typically on the order of 0.5

lb/ft2, which is near the minimum of expected conductivity, are increasingly common.

Figure 3 Fracture conductivity vs. 20/40 sand conc. Figure 4 ULW-1.05 proppant partial monolayer

at low temperature and closure stress. after exposure to 200oF & 5,000 psi stress.

While the prospect of fracturing with proppant partial monolayers was initially met with a great deal of

enthusiasm, field attempts to place partial proppant monolayers resulted almost universally with

disappointment and failure. Suggested reasons for the difficulties included the inability to obtain uniform and

complete coverage of the fracture with a partial monolayer, insufficient proppant strength to support the load,

loss of fracture width due proppant crushing and/or proppant embedment, severe gel damage from the high

polymer loading, less refined fluids of that era, and non-Darcy flow effects in the relatively narrow propped

fracture. Due the previous unsuccessful experiences, application of proppant partial monolayers had been

dormant, considered by many to be an academic theory incapable of real-world implementation.

Observations during the large-scale proppant transport testing and the subsequent introduction of ULW

proppants led to resurrection of the theory of increasing fracture deliverability by placing proppant partial

monolayers8. The substantial open flow areas provided by a partial monolayer are illustrated in Figure 4,

showing a core slab from a conductivity test using 0.02 lb/ft2 of ULW-1.05 proppant. The conductivity of a 14/40

mesh ULW-1.05 proppant at concentrations ranging from 0.01 to 0.8 lb/ft2 is shown in Figure 5. Note that the

signatures of the curves constructed from the laboratory test data are very similar to those mathematically

modeled by Darin and Huitt. A peak conductivity of greater than 5,000 md-ft was achieved using a ULW-1.05

proppant concentration of 0.02 lb/ft2. The conductivity behavior versus closure stress of a ULW-1.05 proppant

partial monolayer fracture is compared in Figure 6 to various packed fractures of conventional proppants. The

partial monolayer of 0.02 lb/ft2 ULW-1.05 proppants is shown to provide conductivity at 4,000 psi closure three

times greater than 1.0 lb/ft2 pack of sand; i.e. over 30 times as much conductivity per pound of proppant in

place.

The improved transportability of ULW proppant has been proven in field application to enable placement in a

partial monolayers having high conductivity. In addition to enabling placement in a partial monolayer, the

transportability of ULW proppant has been shown to provide greatly increased effective fracture area. Case

histories of partial monolayer fracturing treatments employing ULW proppants have consistently exhibited

stimulated production increases well beyond expectations, effectively validating the productivity benefits of the

ULW proppant partial monolayer process 9-11. It is difficult to prove the distribution of ULW proppant partial

monolayers within fractures thousands of feet removed from our abilities to actually see them. However, the

extremely favorable responses from hundreds of wells treated using designs employing the small PML

volumes of proppant compared to offsets using ten times or greater volumes of conventional proppants

provides clear support for the conclusion that the proppant partial monolayer theory and process is viable.

SPE 119385 5

10000 10000

1000

1000

100

100

10

1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000

10 Closure Stress (psi)

0.005 0.01 0.02 0.04 0.1 0.2 0.5 0.8 ULW-1.05, 14/40 @ 0.02 ppsf 20/40 Sand @ 2.0 ppsf 20/40 Sand @ 0.5 ppsf

40/80 LWC @ 0.5 ppsf 40/70 Sand @ 0.25 ppsf 40/80 LWC @ 0.25 ppsf

1000 psi 3000 psi 5000 psi ULW-1.05, 40/100 @ 0.005 ppsf

Figure 5 Conductivity vs,concentration @ 150oF Figure 6 Proppant conductivity vs. closures stress

ULW 1.05 proppant partial monolayers

A primary question facing an engineer designing a fracturing treatment is how much proppant is needed?.

The fracture design models guide the stimulation optimization by comparison of treatment size versus fracture

half-length and the resultant fracture productivity predicted for that respective design. For low permeability

reservoirs, it is commonly accepted that fracture length dominates fracturing effectiveness, but this is only

partially true since the fracture area associated with that length must have sufficient conductivity contrast to the

reservoir. Fracture length or area created, but having insufficient conductivity to be effective (i.e. un-propped) is

a waste of the fluid volume pumped for its creation. Similar negative implications can be ascribed to fracture

height, i.e. the area created above or below the productive interval. Such situations are common in slickwater

fracturing applications employing settled bed designs which typically leave unpropped height within the

productive interval above the bed12.

Proppant cost can be a significant component of the total treatment cost. The proppant component cost may

range from 20% of the total cost of a small fracturing treatment to in excess of 50% for a large treatment using

ceramic proppants. Many published field histories associated with relatively expensive proppants disclose

improved well productivity sufficient to justify the greater treatment costs. The economic success of stimulated

wells may be characterized as Return on Fracturing Investment (ROFI). The success of a well stimulation is

generally measured by the value of the increase in hydrocarbon recovery recognized, relative to the cost of the

stimulation treatment. Since enhancing well stimulation treatments is commonly addressed by employing larger

treatments and proppant volumes, such efforts usually result in increased stimulation costs, which may have

negative implications on ROFI.

The primary objective of this paper was to characterize the ROFI implications of PML designs using ultra-

lightweight proppants in comparison to typical packed fracture designs using conventional proppants. The

relative impact of respective parameters defining effective fracture area and fracture conductivity on well

productivity were compared to the cumulative production forecasts for the respective treatment designs.

Normalized stimulation costs were assigned to the respective designs for assessment against the resultant

fracture deliverability to develop a comparison of the ROFI for each of the designs evaluated. First order

parameters influencing productivity of a fractured reservoir are known to be the effective fracture area and the

conductivity of the fracture within that area. Fracture designs were developed to compare the effects of these

parameters in a model tight gas sand reservoir on the predicted stimulated production performance. The

properties of the model reservoir and the fracturing treatment information are provided in Table 1.

Constant injection height and rate were maintained, along with relatively constant treating fluid volumes for

purposes of consistency of the created fracture area. In order to minimize the many complexities introduced by

crosslinked, polymer viscosified fluids (frac geometry, leakoff, conductivity damage) this study is limited to non-

gelled, slickwater fluids. An attempt was maintained to maintain the injected fluid volumes relatively constant

throughout this investigation in order to maintain comparative consistency in the created fracture area. The

average fluid volume over all treatments investigated was 212,500 gallons. Proppant type and volumes were

varied to develop the respective fracture models for comparison. All models were generated with MFrac-3D

6 SPE 119385

with the proppant settling and convection functionalities active. The fluid and sand volumes for the each of the

frac designs are provided in Table 2. The fracture dimensions, conductivity, and well performance data derived

by the frac design and production simulations are shown numerically in Table 3.

Frac 2 208 Mgal, 300 Mlb sand, 20/40

Gas - Dry Fluid - Slickwater

Frac 3 208 Mgal, 300 Mlb sand, 40/70

Porosity - 7% Viscosity - 3 cP

Frac 4 208 Mgal, 300 Mlb LWC, 40/80

Permeability - 0.01 mD LO Coef. - 0.001

Frac 5 221 Mgal, 38 Mlb ULW-1.05, 14/40

Thickness - 300 ft Injection Rate - 80 BPM

Frac 6 196 Mgal, 19 Mlb ULW-1.05, 40/100

YM - 2.0 X E6 BHP - 4,500 psi

Frac 7 256 Mgal, 180 Mlb sand, 40/70 &

19 Mlb ULW-1.05, 40/100

Table 1 Tight Sand Reservoir Model Properties & Table 2 Frac Simulation Proppant Volumes

Treatment Parameters

The first set of frac simulations were generated to characterize the effects of proppant loading and particle size

on the performance of slickwater fracs using conventional sand and ceramic proppants. Labeled as Frac 1 -

Frac 4, proppant volumes from 200 - 300 Mlb and sizes from 20/40 to 40/70 were evaluated. The proppant

volumes used in the simulations are representative of the volumes widely used in slickwater fracturing

treatments in low permeability reservoirs. Significant settling of the 20/40 sand proppant was observed in Frac

1, as illustrated in Figure 8, resulting in settled proppant bed which occupies only about 16% of the created

fracture area. The sand settling resulted in an average concentration of 0.63 lb/ft2 within the effective fracture

area (comprised of the settled proppant bed), and an average fracture conductivity of 889 mDft. Utilizing these

data, the production simulator predicted a 360 day cumulative production of 85 MMscf, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 8 Frac-1 MFrac-3D Proppant Placement Placement for 200 Mlb 20/40 Sand Proppant

in 191 Mgal Slickwater

A commonly applied method to increase fractured well performance is to increase the amount of proppant used

in the pumping treatment. Accordingly, Frac 2 was generated to assess the benefits of increasing the amount

of conventional proppant in a slickwater frac by increasing the proppant volume by 50%, as shown in Figure

10. Increasing the sand volume by 50% resulted in an increase of 43% in propped fracture area, i.e. to about

23% versus the 16% experienced in Frac 1. The average concentration of the propped area was 0.71 lb/ft2,

yielding an average conductivity of 992 mDft. Both were about 13% higher than observed in Frac 1. The

simulation for Frac 2 predicts a 360 day cumulative production of 131.0 MMscf (Figure 9). Thus, the 50%

greater sand concentration was observed to improve well performance by 54% relative Frac-1.

SPE 119385 7

250

200

150

100

50

0

0 90 180 270 360

Days

Frac 1 Frac 2 Frac 3 Frac 4

Figure 10 Frac 2 MFrac-3D Proppant Placement Placement for 300 Mlb 20/40 Sand

Proppant in 208 Mgal Slickwater

Reducing proppant size to improve proppant transport has emerged as a very popular technique employed in

slickwater fracturing treatments. Consequently, the Frac 3 design utilized 300 Mlb of 40/70 sand in lieu of the

20/40 sand to evaluate the effects of reduced proppant size. The propped area in Frac 3, as illustrated in

Figure 11, was observed to be very similar to that above in Frac 2. The only significant difference observed

was extension of the propped fracture length from 500 ft to about 700 ft, but the height of the settled bed in the

area of extension was only about 15 ft, resulting in a very small increase in the propped fracture area.

Utilization of 40/70 sand provided for 23.7% of the created area to be propped effective area, compared to 23%

for the same volume of 20/40 sand. However, the reduction in proppant size resulted in the average

conductivity of the propped fracture area being reduced by 80%, to 173 mDft. The increase in effective fracture

area, although marginal, was observed to outweigh the substantial conductivity reduction, as the well

performance was observed to be benefited by a 14% improvement in the 360 day cumulative production

compared for that observed for the same proppant volume 20/40 sand, to 149 Masco, as illustrated in Figure 9.

.

Lightweight ceramic proppant in a 40/80 mesh size was recently introduced for slickwater fracturing

applications with the stated purpose of providing improved proppant transport, better conductivity, and superior

well performance than can be recognized with the heavier, conventional sand or ceramic proppants. In an

attempt to quantify those claimed enhancements, Frac 4 was generated incorporating 300 Mlb of 40/80 LWC in

lieu of the 40/70 sand in the previous example. The proppant placement for Frac 4, as shown in Figure 12, was

observed to be similar to that seen in Frac 3 for the 40/70 sand, with a large settled bed near the wellbore and

a shallow bed stringer extending for a distance beyond the primary bed. However, in the case of Frac 4, the

primary bed, comprising the bulk of the propped area is notably shorter that that observed for the sand. This is

believed due to the 40/80 LWC having a larger median particle diameter than the typical 40/70 sand, resulted

in a slightly accelerated settling rate, as illustrated In Figure 1.

8 SPE 119385

Figure 11 Frac 3 MFrac-3D Proppant Placement Placement for 300 Mlb 40/70 Sand Proppant

in 208Mgal Slickwater

Figure 12 Frac 4 MFrac-3D Proppant Placement for 300 Mlb 40/80 Lightweight Ceramic

Proppant in 208 Mgal Slickwater

Created Effective

Frac Area, Conductivity, Conductivity, Production,

2 Frac Area, FracArea,

ft 2 mDft Cfd 360 days, Mscf

ft %

131,000 889 177 85,000

Frac-1 792,000 16.5%

193,000 992 147 131,000

Frac-2 818,000 23.6%

194,000 173 15.7 149,000

Frac-3 820,000 23.7%

144,000 320 30.6 158,000

Frac-4 820,000 17.6%

758,000 294 19.2 254,000

Frac-5 828,000 91.5%

762,000 48 3.2 188,000

Frac-6 786,000 96.9%

798,000 99 6.6 176,000

Frac-7 890,000 89.6%

Table 3 Summary of Effective Fracture Area, Conductivity, 360 day Cumulative Production Forecast

SPE 119385 9

The propped fracture area observed in Frac 4 was only 18% of the created fracture area, or roughly 25% less

than observed for the similar volume of 40/70 sand. The average conductivity for Frac 4 was 320 mDft, nearly

double that experienced with 40/70 sand in Frac 3; but, only about one third of the 20/40 sand in Frac 2.

Figure 9 shows the 360 day cumulative production for 40/80 LW ceramic design to be 158 MMscf, which is 6%

% better than observed for Frac 3.

Propped Fracture Area, Conductivity, & Well Performance with ULW Proppant Partial Monolayers

The second set of simulations was directed towards characterization of the performance of wells treated with

slickwater and ULW-1.05 proppant partial monolayers. The only modifications of these designs relative to

those above were the proppant type, size and volume employed. Frac 5 utilized 38.5 Mlb of 14/40 ULW-1.05

proppant, targeting an areal partial monolayer placement of 0.04 lb/ft2. As shown in Figure13, Frac 5

incorporating a ULW-1.05 proppant partial monolayer provided a propped fracture area equal to 92% of the

created fracture area, in stark contrast to the slickwater frac designs using conventional proppant having

propped fracture area of +/- 20%. The average conductivity observed for Frac 5 was 294 mDft, yielding a

Dimensionless Conductivity of 19. As shown in Figure 14, the 360 day cumulative production forecast for Frac

5 was 254 MMscf, or 40% higher than the best of the simulations with much larger volumes of conventional

proppants.

Figure 13 Frac-5 MFrac-3D Proppant Placement Placement for 38.5 Mlb 14/40 ULW-1.05 Proppant

in 221 gal Slickwater

Cumulative Production, MMscf

250

200

150

100

50

0

0 90 180 270 360

Days

Frac 1 Frac 2 Frac 3 Frac 4 Frac 5 Frac 6 Frac 7

10 SPE 119385

The second partial monolayer design, Frac 6, employed a smaller sized 40/100 ULW-1.05 proppant. Due to the

smaller median particle diameter, a lesser volume of proppant is needed for an optimal partial monolayer

distribution. The optimal conductive concentration for partial monolayer of the 40/100 mesh ULW-1.05

proppant is about 0.02 lb/ft2, compared to 0.04 lb/ft2 for the 14/40 mesh proppant. Thus, the Frac 6 design

contained 19.5 Mlb of 40/100 mesh ULW-1.05. As shown in Figure 15, the Frac 6 proppant placement shows

that 97% of the created fracture area was effectively propped. Smaller proppant diameters yield narrower frac

widths in monolayers, and consequently, the 48 mDft conductivity observed for Frac 6 is about 80% less than

observed in Frac 5 with the larger size. The 360 day cumulative for Frac 6 was projected as 188 MMscf, which

is not as good as was observed with the larger ULW partial monolayer in Frac 5, yet significantly better than

yielded by any of the conventional proppants. This suggests that, at least for the low permeability conditions

evaluated in this study, maximizing effective fracture area may be of greater benefit than increasing fracture

conductivity.

Figure 15 Frac 6 MFrac-3D Proppant Placement Placement for 19.5 Mlb of 40/100 ULW-1.05

Proppant in 196 gal Slickwater

Figure 16 Frac 7 MFrac-3D Proppant Placement Placement for 180 Mlb 40/70 Sand and 19.5 Mlb

40/100 ULW-1.05 Proppant in 256 gal Slickwater

Lastly, a hybrid slickwater frac design named Frac 7, was generated incorporating 180 Mlb of 40/70 mesh sand

followed by 19.5 Mlb of 40/100 mesh ULW-1.05 proppant. It was expected that the sand would bank on the

bottom of the fracture, and the ULW proppant would fill the remaining created fracture with a partial monolayer,

providing superior performance at an intermediate cost. It appears in Figure 16, that the settled sand bank

SPE 119385 11

occupies about 15% of the created area and the ULW-1.05 proppant partial monolayer occupies most of that

remaining. The overall effective fracture area was 90% of the created area, with an average conductivity of 100

mDft. Figure 14 shows the 360 day cumulative production of 176 MMscf for Frac 7, comparing more closely to

the ULW-1.05 partial monolayer frac than the conventional proppant fracs.

Fracturing Treatment Cost Estimation Methodology

Fracturing treatment costs are highly variable, depending upon location and pumping services availability,

equipment requirements, and material costs. For the current effort, the fracturing treatment costs related to the

slickwater fluids, pumping equipment, and service costs have been bundled, and assigned a discounted cost

of $1.50/gal of fluid volume employed. Thus the non-proppant costs varied by the fluid volume employed,

ranging from a low of $ 285K for Frac 1, to a high of $ 383K in Frac 7. The proppant costs were assigned for

using typical price book values, which were then bulk volume normalized and multiplied by the respective

volume employed in the treatment at a discount rate of 50%. The estimated fracturing treatment costs for each

of the preceding examples incorporating proppant settling in the simulation are shown in Table 4.

Fracturing

Proppant Proppant Proppant

Proppant Treatment

Mlb / ft3 $/ft3 Cost, $

Cost, $

Frac-1 Sand, 20/40 200 / 2,000 $ 30.00 $ 60,000 $345,900

Frac-2 Sand, 40/70 300 / 3,000 $ 30.00 $ 90,000 $401,595

Frac-3 Sand, 20/40 300 / 3,000 $ 30.00 $ 90,000 $403,230

Frac-4 LWC, 40/80 300 / 2,887 $ 80.00 $ 230,944 $544,110

Frac-5 ULW-1.05, 14/40 38.5 / 939 $ 120.00 $ 112,728 $443,883

Frac-6 ULW-1.05, 40/100 19.5 / 476 $ 120.00 $ 57,096 $350,496

ULW-1.05, 40/100 19.5 / 476 $30.00

Frac-7 $ 120.00 $ 111,096 $494,796

Table 4 Estimated Treatment Costs

Frac 1 was the least costly treatment due to its incorporation of the least volume of the cheapest proppant, sand.

The 40/100 ULW-1.05 design, Frac 6, was the next least costly due to low volumes of both fluid and proppant. The

lightweight ceramic proppant/slickwater treatment, Frac 4, was the most costly, primarily due to the relatively high

cost of the proppant and the larger volumes required. The 14/40 ULW-1.05 partial monolayer frac was from 105%

higher for the fracturing treatment cost than the sand fracs, and about 20% less costly than the lightweight ceramic

slickwater frac.

The economic success of stimulated wells may be defined by the Return on Fracturing Investment (ROFI): the

well performance relative to the cost of the hydraulic fracture stimulation employed. The ROFI may be

estimated by simply subtracting the fracturing treatment cost from the value of the stimulated production. Table

3 provides a consolidated summary of the production simulator estimated 360 day cumulative production and

Table 4 provides an estimate of the respective treatment costs. The stimulated production value of the Frac

designs may be estimated by the cumulative production prediction multiplied by a unit value, which for this

effort used $7.00/mcf. The estimated fracturing treatment cost, the 360 day cumulative production, the

calculated value of the cumulative production and, the resulting ROFI for the example Fracs are provided in

Table 5.

The costs of the higher sand volumes in Frac 2 and Frac 3, relative to Frac 1, were justified by a doubling of

the associated one year ROFI from $250K to over $500K. Although the cumulative production observed for the

LW ceramic proppant was significantly higher than that of the sand-based fracs, the markedly higher costs of

the LWC proppants used in similar volumes, eroded the ROFI of Frac 4 to the extent that in this case, 40/70

sand was a better value.

12 SPE 119385

The ultra-lightweight proppant in partial monolayer concentrations provided superior well performance at costs

fairly comparable to the sand fracs, and consequently were found to yield a significantly greater return on the

fracturing investment. The ROFI of the Frac 5, the 14/40 ULW-1.05 proppant PML treatment was more than

double that of the best conventional proppant fracturing treatment (Frac 3) and 4.5 times better than the

cheapest, Frac 1. Frac 6, the smaller 40/100 ULW-1.05 treatment, combined the 2nd lowest treatment cost with

the 2nd highest well performance to yield the 2nd highest ROFI.

Cumulative

Fracturing Cumulative Production

Treatment Cost, Production, Value, 360 Days ROFI, $ in 1 yr

$ 360 days, mcf @ $7 per MMscf,

$

Frac-1 $345,900 85,000 $ 595,000 $ 249,100

Frac-2 $401,595 131,000 $ 917,000 $ 515,405

Frac-3 $403,230 149,000 $ 1,043,000 $ 639,770

Frac-4 $544,110 158,000 $ 1,106,000 $ 561,890

Frac-5 $443,883 254,000 $ 1,778,000 $ 1,334,117

Frac-6 $350,496 186,000 $ 1,302,000 $ 951,504

Frac-7 $494,796 171,000 $ 1,197,000 $ 702,204

Table 5. Fracturing treatment cost, 360 day production, production value, and ROFI.

Conclusions

The relatively high particle densities exhibited by conventional sand and ceramic proppants can lead to

excessive proppant settling when used in slickwater fracs, leading to the propped fracture area being

significantly less than the created fracture area. Stimulated well deliverability is known to be proportional to

propped fracture area. Increasing the volume of proppant pumped is one means to increase propped fracture

area and improve well performance. However, increasing the proppant volume was also shown to have direct

impact on increasing treatment cost and consequently must be accounted when considering the ROFI.

A widely employed method to enhance propped area in sand/slickwater treated fractures is decreasing the

proppant particle size to improve transport by reducing proppant settling. Although this method may provide for

increased propped fracture area, potential benefits to productivity may be offset by severe reductions in the

conductivity of the proppant pack. Decreasing the proppant size by 50%, i.e. from 20/40 to 40/70, can reduce

the conductivity by as much as an order of magnitude. For the conditions considered, the enhanced propped

area resulting from reduced sand size outweighed the loss in conductivity, as the smaller sand provided a 24%

better ROFI.

Ultra-lightweight proppants provided over five times greater propped fracture area than observed using

similarly sized conventional proppants and four times more effective fracture area than small-diameter

conventional proppants. Placement of ULW proppants in partial monolayers was shown to provide better

fracture conductivity than conventional proppants employed multi-layer proppant concentrations. Relative to

the multilayer packs used with conventional proppants, very small volumes of ultra-lightweight proppants are

needed for partial monolayer concentrations of optimal conductivity, substantially offsetting the relatively higher

unit costs of ULW proppants versus conventional proppants.

A strong correlation was observed among all the Fracs between the Effective Fracture Area and the 360 day

Cumulative Production, as those with the highest production were among those with the greatest effective

fracture area, and vise versa. ULW proppant partial monolayers exhibited both the greatest effective fracture

and highest cumulative production. The slickwater fracs using exclusively conventional sand or LW ceramic

proppants exhibited the lowest effective fracture area as well as the least production. Cumulative production

sensitivity to the fracture conductivity and dimensionless fracture conductivity was significantly less pronounced

than to the effective fracture area.

The comparisons provided illustrate the benefits on well performance of ULW proppants in partial monolayer

concentrations. Comparison of the normalized job costs demonstrate that ULW proppant partial monolayer

fracturing treatments can be competitive or less costly than fracs employing conventional proppants in

concentrations sufficient to facilitate improved well performance. Similarly, these comparisons have

demonstrated that the Return On Fracturing Investment of the ultra-lightweight proppant partial monolayer

treatments outperform the ROFI of treatments employing conventional proppants by over 100%.

SPE 119385 13

In the cases investigated in this study, it has been shown that less partial monolayers of ULW proppant - can

deliver more. The very low concentration partial monolayer ULW proppant treatments were shown to perform

better than slickwater fracturing treatments employing typical concentrations of either sand or ceramic

proppants, in terms of both well performance and the Return-On-Fracturing-Investment, and in some cases,

was achieved at lower costs than typical treatments.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the management of BJ Services Company for their support and permission to

publish this information.

References

1. Economides and Martin; Modern Fracturing, 1st Edition, 2007.

2. Warpinski, N. R., Mayerhofer, M.J., Vincent, M.C., Cipolla, C.L., Lolon, E.L. : Stimulating Unconventional

Reservoirs: Maximizing Network Growth while Optimizing Fracture Conductivity, SPE 114173, presented at

the SPE Unconventional Reservoirs Conference, Keystone, CO, February 10-12, 2008.

3. Rickards, Allan R., Brannon, Harold D., Wood, William D., and Stephenson, Christopher J: High Strength,

Ultra-Lightweight Proppant Lends New Dimensions to Hydraulic Fracturing Applications paper SPE 84308

presented at the 2003 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Denver, October 5-8.

4. Wood, William D., Brannon, Harold D., Rickards, Allan R., and Stephenson, Christopher J: Ultra-Lightweight

Proppant Development Yields Exciting New Opportunities in Hydraulic Fracturing Design paper SPE 84309,

presented at the 2003 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Denver, October 5-8.

5. Edgeman, Randall, Gertsner, Mike, Nelson, Scott, and Malone, Mark: Lightweight Proppant. A New

Innovation In Hydraulic Fracturing paper presented at the 51st Annual Southwest Petroleum Short Course,

Lubbock, Texas, April 21-22, 2004.

6. Brannon, H.D., Wood W.D., Wheeler, R.S.: The Quest for Improved Proppant Transport: Investigation of

the Effects of Proppant Slurry Component Properties on Transport paper SPE 95675, presented at the SPE

Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Dallas, October 9-11, 2005.

7. Brannon, H.D., Wood, W.D., and Wheeler, R.S.: A New Correlation for Relating the Physical Properties of

Fracturing Slurries to the Minimum Flow Velocity Required for Transport, paper SPE 106312, presented at the

2007 SPE Hydraulic Fracturing Technology Conference, College Station, Texas, U.S.A., Jan. 2931.

8. Darin, S.R. and Huitt, J.L.: Effect of a Partial Monolayer of Propping Agent On Fracture Flow Capacity

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9. Brannon, H.D. , Malone M.R., Rickards, A.R., Wood W.D., Edgeman, J.R., and Bryant, J.L.: Maximizing

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10. Schein, G.W., Carr, P.D., Canaan, P.A., Richey, R.: Ultra Lightweight Proppants: Their Use and

Application in the Barnett Shale, paper SPE 90838, presented at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and

Exhibition, Houston, September 26-29, 2004.

11. Kendrick, D.E., Puskar, M.P., Schlotterbeck, S.T.: Ultralightweight Proppants: A Field Study in the Big

Sandy Field of Eastern Kentucky paper SPE 98006, presented at the SPE Eastern Regional Meeting,

Morgantown, West Virginia, September 14-16, 2005.

12. Chambers, R., and Meise, K.: Comparison of Fracture Geometries Utilizing Ultralightweight Proppants

Provide Evidence That Partial Monolayers Can Be Created: A Case History, paper SPE 96818, presented at

the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Dallas, October 9-11, 2005.

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Deliverability and Stimulation Value, paper SPE 116057, presented at the SPE Annual Technical Conference

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