Global Spotlight Shines On Emerging Shale Plays

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Last year’s Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC) was like a full-length feature documentary on unconventional oil and gas plays.

This year, URTeC has added an enhanced preview of “Coming Attractions.”

In addition to looking at established plays, URTeC will provide significant information about emerging unconventional resource possibilities in North America and around the world.

URTeC is the oil and gas industry’s only integrated event for unconventional resources, sponsored by AAPG, the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG).

By design, each conference session includes geological, engineering and geophysical perspectives. URTeC aims to be the one unconventional resources event where key disciplines come together in an integrated environment.

Like last year’s inaugural meeting, URTeC 2014 will be held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, this year on Aug. 25-27.

The conference includes a full slate of oral presentations plus e-papers, interactive panel sessions, field trips and a total of 15 topical breakfast and luncheon sessions.

“Attendees with various levels of unconventional experience can attend. It attracts those that have expertise in unconventionals with its top-quality content,” said Jennifer Bell, chair of the ASME’s Petroleum Division and chief executive officer of Elements Offshore LLC in Houston. She will serve as co-chair for the URTeC session “Emerging Plays: Roadway from Ideas to Sweetspots.”

That’s just one of several sessions on emerging unconventional plays scheduled at URTeC 2014, including a panel session on developing international plays.

“It also attracts newcomers, as the event has a balanced depth and breadth in content as well as networking opportunities for engineers and scientists that they may not otherwise have,” she added.

Latin Potential

Interest in international unconventional possibilities kicked up sharply earlier this year.

In May, ExxonMobil Corp. announced its Bajo del Choique X-2 well in Argentina had flowed at an average rate of 770 barrels of oil/day on choke in its first test. The well was completed in the Vaca Muerta formation, after drilling to a total measured depth of about 15,000 feet (4,570 meters).

“Not all shales are alike, so our first ExxonMobil-operated discovery in the Vaca Muerta play is a very positive sign that the shale in this area of Neuquén Province holds great promise as a liquids-rich unconventional resource for Argentina,” said AAPG member Stephen Greenlee, president of ExxonMobil Exploration Co.

Vaca Muerta is seen as one of the most promising new international shale plays. Earlier this year, Chevron Corp. and state-owned oil firm YPF announced plans to invest an additional $1.6 billion to develop Vaca Muerta potential.

Other shale possibilities have emerged in the Magdalena Valley area in Colombia, especially in the Cretaceous La Luna formation. Earlier this year, ExxonMobil and partner Canacol Energy Ltd. of Calgary announced they’d produced 590 barrels of oil/day from a La Luna discovery well after acid treatment.

Both the Vaca Muerta and La Luna will be the subject of papers in the oral presentation sessions at URTeC 2014.

Around the World

Intriguing unconventional possibilities also involve emerging play areas in both Mexico and China. In Mexico, the industry’s interest is focused on an extension of the Eagle Ford shale play into the northern Burgos Basin.

Eagle Ford potential and characteristics will be addressed in numerous oral presentations at URTeC, including a discussion of the play area east of the San Marcos Arch and an update on the Eagle Ford East-Eaglebine in the United States.

Mexico includes six main onshore unconventional resource provinces, and several successful shale tests already have been drilled in the country. According to state oil firm PEMEX, the total national unconventional resource potential could exceed 60 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

In late 2013, Mexico adopted its most significant energy reforms in 75 years, possibly opening its energy sector to international participation, another development drawing industry interest.

Development of unconventionals in China has mainly targeted tight oil and gas, in addition to an established coalbed methane program. But the country has shale resource possibilities in more than a dozen basins, stretching from the Tarim Basin in west China to basins offshore the country’s east coast.

Other presentations will examine upcoming unconventional plays from Saudi Arabia to the North Sea.

Discussion of emerging resource possibilities in North America will include Ordovician unconventional oil potential, the Skull Creek shale in Wyoming, a new resource play in Colorado and Aptian prospectivity in the Mississippi Interior Salt Basin.

‘Everything for Everybody’

Once again, URTeC will feature an in-depth look at the most important continuing unconventional plays in the United States, including case studies and technical presentations on the Bakken, Marcellus, Eagle Ford and Woodford plays.

Presenters also will discuss developments in the Midcontinent Mississippi lime play, the Cana Woodford shale play, the Niobrara formation play, the Utica shale, the Mancos shale and the Wolfcamp play.

The emerging areas overview is just one of many session themes scheduled at URTeC 2014. Other sessions address:

  • Regional case studies.
  • Characterization of unconventional reservoirs.
  • Application and integration of well data.
  • Understanding the petroleum system.
  • Optimizing recovery from unconventional reservoirs.
  • Optimizing capital efficiency.
  • Production performance of tight oil and gas reservoirs.
  • Social performance.
  • Reserves forecasting and estimation.
  • Long-term performance.

Social performance presentations will include a session on “Water Management and Social License to Operate” and a discussion of sustainability issues, both emerging hot topics in unconventional development.

Bell sees the conference’s breadth of coverage and its appeal to many different levels of interest as a unique advantage for URTeC.

“It’s where someone like myself can go and enjoy the presentations and have a good time,” she said, “and there are also certain tracks that are extremely technical, with people who are recognized experts.

“It’s almost like it’s everything for everybody.”

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Q&A With Ecopetrol’s Edward Tovar: Latin American Shale Activity

The hunt for unconventional plays and shale targets has become a global dynamic in the energy scene – and geologists and operators in Latin America are eagerly joining the game.

Edward Tovar is unconventional reservoirs manager with Ecopetrol, Colombia’s national oil company. He has been working with unconventional reservoirs for three years and currently leads the company’s efforts in the Middle Magdalena Basin.

He took a few moments to briefly talk with the EXPLORER about Latin America’s current reality.

EXPLORER: What are some of the most significant shale opportunities in Latin America?

Tovar: Besides the opportunities offered by the Colombian basins, there are other very attractive areas to explore in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil, among others.

EXPLORER: What should people outside this region know about the shale potential here?

Tovar: People should know not only the composition of the source rocks but also the tectonic history behind those rocks.

EXPLORER: Describe your role with Ecopetrol.

Tovar: My primary responsibility is focused on leading the strategy of unconventional reservoirs in Ecopetrol.

EXPLORER: What reservoirs are you exploring currently?

Tovar: We [at Ecopetrol] are evaluating the cretaceous formations, well known as world-class source rocks. La Luna and Tablazo formations in the Middle Magdalena Basin and other equivalent formations in the Catatumbo and the Upper Magdalena Basin as well.

EXPLORER: What do you expect to find? Are there any preliminary results that you could share?

Tovar: The program we have implemented has four stages: the evaluation or resource assessment, piloting of productivity, commercial demonstration and development.

So far, we have significant advances in resource assessment and identification of prospective plays for shale gas and oil.

EXPLORER: What do you find most interesting about working with shale?

Tovar: We have found a lot of interesting things, one of those is the possibility of discovering new reservoirs in mature basins, as is the Middle Magdalena basin.

EXPLORER: What is the biggest challenge your team faces?

Tovar: We have many challenges to deal with. I would say there’s a tailor-made learning curve to be constructed for the types of rocks we have in the Colombian basins.

EXPLORER: How does working with shale exploration in Latin America compare to working with shale in other parts of the world?

Tovar: In Latin America, we are taking advantage of the learning curve already constructed in North America. The major difference here is that there is less hydraulic fracturing capacity here than in North America.


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