Energy industry leaders discuss technology at Woodward conference [The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City]By Adam Wilmoth, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma CityMcClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Aug. 10--WOODWARD -- Improved technology, drilling practices and regulation combined to help create the oil and natural gas boom throughout western Oklahoma, according to speakers Thursday at the TriState Oil & Gas Convention in Woodward.
Tulsa-based Unit Petroleum Corp. over the past three years has returned to Beaver County, where oil was first discovered more than half a century ago and an area that was widely considered to be depleted.
Horizontal drilling, however, changed the game, said Frank Young, vice president of Unit Petroleum's central division.
"The horizontal technology was required to make that play," Young said. "That was the only way you were going to take advantage of the natural formation of the rock."
In a traditional vertical well, producers drill down through various layers of rocks. They can use hydraulic fracturing and other methods along the way, but they only have a limited area to produce from each horizontal layer of rock.
With horizontal drilling, producers target one rock layer at a time. They drill down vertically to that rock layer depth and then drill a horizontal section -- known as a lateral -- that can extend as much as two miles through the narrow horizontal layer.
Horizontal drilling allows better access to much more surface area of the target layer along the well bore.
The benefit is especially great in areas like Beaver County, where the rock contains numerous natural cracks and fractures, which make it easier for the oil and natural gas to flow through the rock layer and into the well.
In much of Beaver County, the Marrowton rock layer that Unit is targeting contains numerous natural fractures in an east-west pattern.
To best take advantage of the rocks, Unit is drilling horizontal wells that run north and south, intersecting the natural cracks.
"People just didn't imagine that it was naturally fractured like that," Young said. "That's what made the play. We went in and took the chance that it was naturally fractured. When we drilled our first horizontal well in the area, sure enough, you could see them."
Unit's discovery has led to economic benefits to numerous businesses throughout the area, Young said.
"Duke (Energy) has had to bring in more people and had to lay more pipelines," Young said. "We've worked with the Tri-County Electric Cooperative to help it expand their infrastructure."
While horizontal drilling has unlocked new opportunities, it also has raised new regulatory challenges.
Oklahoma regulations for generations have divided the state up into 640-acre square drilling tracts, which work great for vertical wells, but don't as neatly fit horizontal drilling patterns. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the Legislature recently changed the regulations to allow drilling along longer tracks up to 1,280 acres.
Today, most of the longer tracks are reserved for horizontal drilling in shale rock, but Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy said the commission is working to extend the new rules to horizontal drilling in other rock types as well, including those found in Beaver County.
"Instead of having two wells with two drilling platforms, two sets of roads and two vertical lengths, you can have one well with a longer lateral," Murphy told the audience at the Woodward convention. "It makes economic sense and environmental sense."
Drilling one horizontal well 10,000 feet long instead of two wells with 5,000 laterals saves operators up to $1 million each time, Young said.
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