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SPE 119385

Maximizing Return on Fracturing Investment by Using Ultra-Lightweight Proppants to


Optimize Effective Fracture Area: Can Less Really Deliver More?
Harold D. Brannon and Thomas R. Starks II, BJ Services Company

Copyright 2009, Society of Petroleum Engineers

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.

Proppant Partial Monolayers


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

C o n d u c tiv ity (m d -ft)


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

Fracture Modeling and Design


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 1 191 Mgal, 200 Mlb sand, 20/40


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

Propped Fracture Area, Conductivity & Predicted Well Performance


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

Cumulative Production, MMscf


250

200

150

100

50

0
0 90 180 270 360
Days
Frac 1 Frac 2 Frac 3 Frac 4

Figure 9 360 Day Cumulative Production Simulation for Fracs 1 thru 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

Effective Fracture Dimensionless Cumulative


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

Figure 14 360 day Cumulative Production for Frac 1 thru 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.

Return-On-Fracturing Investment, ROFI


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

Sand, 40/70 & 180 / 1,800


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.

Return-On-Fracturing Investment, ROFI


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.

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