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Next disruptive shale technology will improve recoveries: Schlumberger fellow

Washington (Platts)--22 Apr 2014 226 pm EDT/1826 GMT


Technologies that will increase the low rate of ultimate recoveries in shale plays are the next disruptive forces in US oil and gas production, experts said Tuesday in Washington.

"The revolutionary change will be breaking out of the primary recovery trap," Schlumberger fellow Robert Kleinberg said. "How do you recover more?"

Kleinberg, a physicist who invents geophysical instruments, didn't know what shape the technology that would upend production in shale oil and gas fields would take, but he predicted it would focus on improving the relatively low rate of ultimate recoveries in shale wells.

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"We're basically in the 'gusher' era," said Kleinberg, who was speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a joint event with the National Capital Area Chapter of the US Association for Energy Economics. "This is where the disruption is going to come."

Conventional wells have primary, secondary and even tertiary methods (carbon dioxide flooding, for instance) to recover more oil and gas from the same hole, Kleinberg pointed out, but shale wells have only the primary method: pressure lifts oil and gas to the wellhead.

The disruptive technology for shale will be one that supplements the primary recovery techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing and improves ultimate recoveries from current single-digit percentages to something much larger, Kleinberg said.

A typical shale oil well recovers 5% of the oil in place, Kleinberg said.

"This is pathetic," he said.

While industry is still working on incremental changes that increase efficiency -- new frack fluids, green completions -- revolutionary change will come with technologies that increase recoveries, Kleinberg said.

"Things are changing so fast it's very difficult to predict the upside [of production] and it's going to get harder," Kleinberg said.

"There is still this disruptive potential," Guy Caruso, former head of the Energy Information Administration, said in opening the conference on disruptive forces in the energy sector. "It's impossible to predict."

Caruso is now a senior adviser in the Energy and National Security program at CSIS.

Private equity giant Riverside's senior adviser on energy investments, Jonathan Silver, laid the groundwork for coming technologies: "Disruptive technology requires a time, a place and desire."

He used the example of a fork: "In five minutes you can think of ways to improve a fork. But -- invent a fork," he challenged the audience. "Invent a whole new way of eating."

--Bill Holland, bill.holland@platts.com
--Edited by Jason Lindquist, jason.lindquist@platts.com



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