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The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), working with the Gas Technology Institute, Laredo Petroleum, and other industry partners, has collected what is possibly the world’s most comprehensive hydraulic-fracturing research dataset in unconventional shale. 

This data – which will be made publicly available – provides a first-ever look at how induced underground fractures spread within horizontal wellbores.  It will be used to help reduce potential environmental impacts, improve efficiency, and demonstrate safe and reliable operations of hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing is a complex process with many variables affecting exactly where fractures propagate, their dimensions, and their ability to enhance production of hydrocarbons. Since the fractures are underground, they are never seen and operators have had to rely on various indirect measurements to infer their dimensions. Insights and understanding gained from this project will change that.

Current fracturing operations are inefficient in several aspects. By improving the design and execution of hydraulic fracturing, the number of future wells drilled can be reduced along with the amount of water and energy needed in hydraulic fracturing operations. A smaller environmental footprint can result.

At a test site in the Permian Basin of Texas, 11 new 10,000-foot-long horizontal wells were drilled and stimulated in the upper and middle Wolfcamp formations, and approximately 600 feet of unique core was obtained by drilling a one-of-a-kind core well through created hydraulic fractures. The process allowed researchers to obtain phenomenal quality core samples.

Based on a first look at the core, the research team predicts that the fundamental understanding of hydraulic fracture propagation, modeling, and effectiveness is about to undergo a game-changing alteration. The data acquired at the site will help producers understand fracture connectivity and conductivity while identifying drainage patterns across multiple rock formations. During this project, Laredo Petroleum provided technology leadership during all operational phases of the research.

NETL, the only national laboratory devoted to fossil energy research, is a world leader in the field of unconventional resource research. Strategically located in Appalachia, NETL has decades of experience developing cutting-edge technology to promote efficient and environmentally sustainable use of the region’s coal, oil, and natural gas resources.

In addition to NETL, participants in the hydraulic fracture test site for the project included Gas Technology Institute, Laredo Petroleum, Core Laboratories, Devon Energy, Discovery Natural Resources, Encana Corporation, Energen, Total E&P and Halliburton.