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Mining the Bakken: Driving Cluster Efficiency Higher Using Particulate


Paul Weddle, Larry Griffin, and C. Mark Pearson, Liberty Resources

Copyright 2017, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Hydraulic Fracturing Technology Conference and Exhibition held in The Woodlands, Texas, USA, 24-26 January

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
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This paper focuses on the evolution of an advanced completion design utilizing solid particulate diverters
resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of fracture initiation points as validated with radioactive (RA)
tracers. The ultimate goal of this strategy is to increase capital efficiency by placing a dense fracture network
more contained within the producing formation. The information contained in the paper should be of great
benefit to completion engineers working across a variety of unconventional oil and gas basins.
It is generally proven that larger proppant volumes and more frac stages result in higher oil and gas
recoveries, i.e., bigger is better. Practically, the number of stages for a 9,500 ft lateral (typical for the Bakken)
is limited to 40 or 50 stages due to operational and cost limits. For advanced completion designs (complex
fracture networks), the goal is not to just increase the stage count but to increase the number of initiation
points (perforation clusters) that are effectively stimulated increasing the contacted fracture surface area.
Considerations when executing this strategy include, but are not limited to: proppant transport, screen out
risk, stress shadowing and geo-mechanical variability along the wellbore.
With volatile oil prices, continued innovation is necessary to sustain the unconventional shale success. In
pursuit of better well performance AND lower capital costs, Liberty Resources has moved to a completion
design that incorporates a high density perforating strategy and a focus on diversion methods to effectively
stimulate each cluster. Solid particulate diverter was utilized to increase perforation cluster efficiency.
Production performance is encouraging, and RA proppant tracers show that cluster stimulation efficiencies
in excess of 85% can be achieved.
The unconventional shale revolution that began 15 years ago has successfully returned the United
States to being a world leader in oil and gas production and technology. Completion designs have evolved
significantly from the first early Barnett Shale completions and are now quite diverse. Variations in design
are driven by the uniqueness of each basin's geologic and reservoir properties as well as operator bias. This
diversity in completion methodologies has contributed significantly to technology advancement; the status
quo is continually tested with new innovations. The Williston Basin was one of the first unconventional
shale oil successes and it continues to contribute to the advancement of horizontal fracturing technology.
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The Bakken Pool formation, highlighted red in Figure 1 (EERC 2014), is located within the Williston Basin,
which spans southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and
Montana in the United States.

Figure 1Location of the Williston Basin.

Ever since the success of the first multi-stage horizontal wells in 2007 at the Parshall Field, completion
designs have continuously evolved. The North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) has a public database
that captures a significant number of key drilling and completion parameters, along with production data.
Figure 2 includes three summary plots created using the NDIC data, sorted for Middle Bakken horizontal
wells and averaged with all wells completed in the same year. Figure 2 highlights the increasing trend in
proppant loading as well as the incremental production results.

Figure 2Summary of metrics by year for the Middle Bakken from NDIC database through August 2016.

Recent papers have published the results of multi-variate analysis, and in the authors view, a significant
portion of the key variables point to the benefits of increasing the conductive surface area within the
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productive interval. For example, in a multi-variate study published by E. Lolon (Lolon, 2016) for 2,283
Middle Bakken and 778 Three Forks horizontal wells, eight variables were identified as drivers of 180-day
cumulative oil production. Two are related to geologic or reservoir characteristics (water cut and Lower
Bakken Shale total organic content), and the remaining six are completion design variables: frac treatment
fluid barrels per lateral foot, lateral feet per stage, frac treatment pounds per lateral foot, stimulation
maximum rate, percent ceramic proppant and if the well has a cemented or open hole liner.
This paper focuses on two of these key completion design variables, feet per stage and pounds per
foot. Both metrics can be enhanced using the novel approach presented in this paper for perforating and
stimulation diversion. Since 2014, the authors have developed and deployed a strategy combining:
(1)High density perforating (HDP) to increase the number of fracture initiation points (clusters).
(2)Diversion to increase the number of productive clusters or perforation cluster efficiency (PCE).
The goal for this strategy is to maximize the created conductive fracture surface area in the targeted
formation for a given fluid and proppant treatment volume. The envisioned increase in productive surface
area has delivered a significant increase in productivity that consistently exceeds not only direct offset well
production, but also exceeds statistically derived productivity expectations for a given area with modern
conventional completion designs (e.g. accounts for modern completions).

High Density Perforating Overview

Multiple studies for the Bakken and Three Forks almost universally find that the number of stimulation
stages is a key driver for increased production. As stages or fracture initiation points increase, the conductive
and productive surface area within the Bakken Pool formations increase which correlates directly with
increased production. Practical and economic drivers limit the number of mechanically separated (plug and
perf or ball and seat) stages to approximately 50 stages for a 9,500 ft lateral in the Williston Basin. In an
effort to dramatically increase the number of fracture initiation points, as well as, to reduce unit finding
and development cost, the operator developed the HDP strategy. This strategy has evolved to cementing
the lateral liner, perforating 15 clusters per stage, 2spf, 0-180 degree phasing with even hole charges and
pumping high rate slickwater fracs at 80 bpm.
The HDP strategy outlined has been utilized in 27 wells at the time of writing. The operational intensity
of perforating 15 clusters per stage has not resulted in an increased misrun rate, which is credited to a close
partnership with service providers. Notably, but not discussed in depth in this paper is the observed benefit
of a reduced screen out rate during pumping operations with no screen-outs requiring flowbacks for any of
these wells. This is attributed to the ability to react quickly enough after a few clusters screen out to adjust
treatment parameters or flush the wellbore clean before all 15 clusters screen out. Longer term production
results will be required to validate some of the expected benefits of an HDP strategy, but 180-day cumulative
production results continue to encourage further development of the strategy in conjunction with a holistic
approach to diversion.
Several operators have conducted field diagnostic studies and published their results with one conclusion
common to Fiber Optic DTS/DAS case studies; notably low perforation cluster efficiency (PCE) across
several oil and gas basins in the continental United States (Cadwallader 2015, Ugueto 2016). To quantify the
PCE for the HDP strategy, radioactive (RA) proppant tracers was used on several wells to better understand
the downhole impacts and dynamics of various diverter techniques. The projects were designed to use
several unique tracers throughout the treatments and a quantified rating of each cluster when interpreting
the RA tracer logs. The RA proppant tracers have proved to be insightful on several topics including the
original intent to better document PCE.
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Fracture Geometry Sensitivity

To roughly quantify the potential upside of in zone surface area creation with an HDP strategy, a hydraulic
fracture model was used to run many scenarios. Each scenario results in a unique frac geometry for a
given proppant volume, pumped in a slickwater at 80 bpm. The resulting frac geometry for each scenario
is summarized in Figure 3 with hydraulic fracture height (Hf), propped fracture height (Hfp), hydraulic
fracture half length (Xf) and propped fracture half length (Xfp). While the model was initially calibrated
to net pressures, several simplifying assumptions were made, such as excluding stress shadowing effects
and equal proppant distribution between each active cluster. The modeling was done with the objective of
finding theoretical areas of diminishing returns and to focus the team on the most cost effective and efficient
way to generate incremental conductive and productive surface. Of note, the Bakken Pool itself, containing
the Upper Bakken Shale, Middle Bakken, Lower Bakken Shale and the Three Forks averages 115 feet in
total thickness in the operator's area of interest. Notably, all modeling scenarios result in propping through
the entire height of the producing system; even the 15 active cluster scenario has a propped fracture height
(Hfp) of greater than 250 feet. Thus, in order to efficiently create more surface area per stage, adding more
active clusters is the most effective way to do so with a given lb/ft of proppant.

Figure 3Summary of frac modeling sensitivity to the number of effective clusters.

Conductive and Productive Surface Area Implications

One way to evaluate the upside from applying a given completion strategy is to break down the analysis to
an individual stage and cluster basis. For instance, in Figure 4, it is more beneficial to increase the effective
clusters from 4 to 6 for a fixed 475 lb/ft slickwater frac design than it is to increase proppant volumes by
50% while maintaining 4 effective perforation clusters. If both the effective number of clusters and lb/ft
are increased at the same time, a dramatic increase in propped surface area within the productive formation
can be achieved. In the operated area of the Williston Basin where these models are applicable, the Middle
Bakken is 60 feet thick and used in the calculations of surface area in Figure 4.
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Figure 4Conductive & productive surface area (Middle Bakken - 60 feet thick) for
35 stages with a 700 lb/ft slickwater and a 475 lb/ft slickwater frac pumped at 80bpm.

Fracture Conductivity Implications

With the commodity price decrease since late 2014, there has been relentless cost cutting by the industry.
One of the hot topics has been increased volumes of 100% sand in lieu of higher strength man-made proppant
that some operators historically pumped in deep, high pressured reservoirs such as the Middle Bakken and
Three Forks. That topic in and of itself is too broad to include in this paper, but it is acknowledged as
something to be monitored as longer term data become available. Figure 5 is included to show the effect on
average conductivity in each effective cluster as more and more clusters are added to a stage with 700 lb/ft
slickwater stimulation (200,000 lbs per stage modeled). For the Bakken/Three Forks, the individual fracture
producing rates (rate per cluster or initiation point) are very low and even a few md-ft of conductivity is
more than adequate if it can be maintained. Initial fluid rates are well below 10 bbl per day per cluster; this
is less than 1/10th of the flow rate of a residential water faucet (2.5 gpm).

Figure 5Summary of average fracture conductivity results from the fracture modeling sensitivity shown in Figure 3.
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Diversion Field Trials

Bio-Ball Sealers
In May and July of 2015, seven wells perforated with an HDP strategy were selected for the application
of bio-degradable ball sealers as a diverting material. Fifteen, 7/8" bio-balls, were deployed in the sweep
between proppant ramps. The pump rate was slowed down prior to the bio-ball sealers hitting the
perforations, and once a pressure response was seen the rate was increased back up to the design rate of 80
bpm as surface treating pressures allowed. Figure 6 and Figure 7 are representative treating plots observed
during this seven well trial. While no downhole diagnostics were performed, it is evident that the diversion
was temporary and opened a couple of incremental perforations that were not previously open. This is
evident in the second proppant ramps presented in both examples, where with the same rates and a similar
wellbore proppant loading, the surface treating pressures are a few hundred psi lower, which was not evident
in stages where bio-balls were not used.

Figure 6Typical treatment plot when using 7/8 bio-ball sealers.

Figure 7Typical treatment plot when using 7/8 bio-ball sealers.

Dissolving Metal (DM) Ball Sealers

In June of 2016, a 7/8" DM ball trial was performed in a few stages of a Middle Bakken well. Figure 8
below shows the treating plot summary and Figure 9 shows the corresponding downhole RA tracer log. The
DM-Ball sealers were deployed in both sweeps, two in the first sweep and four in the second sweep. The
first two DM-Ball sealers clearly had a lasting impact on diversion based on the surface treating pressures,
but appear to have eroded or been rendered ineffective in two separate distinct events later in the second
proppant ramp. In the second sweep, four DM-ball sealers were deployed and had the expected proportional
effect on surface treating pressures. Again, the four DM-ball sealers lasted for a period of time and at least
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two or three of them appear to have eroded or otherwise been rendered ineffective by the end of the third
proppant ramp. This stage had 20 clusters and was a trial to see if all 20 could be stimulated by each ramp.
As discussed in a later section of the paper covering proppant transport, it appears the toe clusters were
quickly lost due to proppant settling.

Figure 8DM-ball sealer trial: 2 deployed in first sweep and 4 deployed in the second sweep.

Figure 9RA proppant tracer log for DM-ball sealer trial shown in Figure 10.

Particulate Diverter
Solid particulate diverter, deployed in the frac designs presented, consisted of a bio-degradable material
called polylactic acid. Figure 10 shows the two different mesh sizes brought to location. A broad range
30/50 mesh and a tighter range of less than 10 mesh were deployed simultaneously in equal proportions.
Effective diversion is dependent on this polydispersity, as the larger and smaller granules bridge off on each
other until an effectively impermeable barrier is built. Polylactic acid dissolves completely in the presence
of water in a time frame influenced by bottom hole pressure and pH.
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Figure 10Polylactic acid granules.

Figure 11 is an example where too much diverter was used and the well pressured out. After several
attempts to bleed off and surge the well, the next frac plug and gun string were pumped down successfully.
Figure 12 is another example where too much diverter was used, but the second proppant ramp was still
able to be placed successfully.

Figure 11Too much diverter in a Three Forks well, resulting in pressuring out a stage.

Figure 12Too much diverter in a Three Forks well, where the 2nd proppant
ramp was pumped successfully but at a much lower rate than designed.

Figure 13 is a representative example of a Middle Bakken stage where diverter was not used in the first
sweep and 6 lbs of diverter was used in the second sweep. In order to get a 1,000 psi increase in surface
treating pressure, at 80bpm, the dosages for the Middle Bakken wells were as low as 6 lb/stage in one
operated area and up to 30 lb/stage in another operated area.
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Figure 13Representative treatment summary for a Middle Bakken well with and without diverter in the sweeps.

Well X and Well Y were chosen for a diagnostic trial to better understand the impact downhole when a
polylactic acid based solid particulate diverter is applied. For Well X, a Middle Bakken well with production
results shown in this paper, Figure 14 is a representative treatment plot with 8 lbs of diverter deployed
during the sweep. For Well Y, the Three Forks well with production results shown in this paper, Figure 15
is a representative treatment plot where 3 lbs of diverter were deployed during the sweep.

Figure 14Typical treatment plot for Well X.

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Figure 15Typical treatment plot for Well Y.

RA Proppant Diagnostic Summary

The diagnostic approach taken to evaluate PCE in wells with a combined HDP and diversion strategy was
RA proppant tracers. Alternating stages were traced with either two or three RA tracers available: Iridium,
Scandium and Antimony. In most cases, one unique tracer was utilized in each individual proppant ramp in
order to get a more dynamic picture of PCE throughout the treatment. In order to better quantify the RA tracer
logs, a rating of the intra-stage RA response for each cluster was used to evaluate each stage independently of
the other stages in the wellbore. This boiled down to a classification of each cluster as "Stimulated," "Some-
Stimulation" or "No Stimulation". From there, a simple sum was applied to each classification: 1.0, 0.5 or
0 respectively. This sum for each stage is the count of "Total Clusters" stimulated for each stage. Cluster
ratings were performed in this manner for each tracer to allow for a review of PCE changes throughout
the treatment.
Figure 16 summarizes the PCE of the16 stages traced in Well X, the Middle Bakken well, with a
cumulative distribution of PCE. The PCE from the first tracer pumped is shown with the dashed line, and the
final cumulative distribution of PCE is captured with the solid line. The P50 for Well X "Total" distribution
shows a 90% PCE, and the weighted average from the ratings resulted in 85% PCE. Figure 17 summarizes
the 16 stages of RA tracer data in Well Y, the Three Forks well, in the same manner. The dashed line
represents a distribution of PCE for the first tracer pumped, and the solid line is the final cumulative PCE.
The P50 for Well Y "Total" distribution shows a 77% PCE, and the weighted average from the ratings
resulted in 79% PCE. Of note, the authors believe the increased cluster efficiency in the Middle Bakken
compared to the Three Forks agrees with internal data indicating increased geomechanical variability in
the Three Forks.
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Figure 16Well X summary PCE based on RA proppant tracer cluster ratings.

Figure 17Well Y summary PCE based on RA tracer cluster ratings.

RA Tracer Representative Stages

Figure 18 and Figure 19 are included as representative stages from Well X, a three proppant ramp design
and a two proppant ramp design respectively. Following the previously described methodology for rating
PCE based on RA tracer present, Figure 18 has a 90% PCE (13.5 of 15 clusters), and Figure 19 has a 93%
PCE (14 of 15 clusters).
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Figure 18Well X RA tracer log for a stage with 4 lbs. of diverter deployed in each sweep of a three proppant ramp design.

Figure 19Well X RA tracer log for a stage with 8 lbs. of diverter deployed in the sweep of a two proppant ramp design.

Figure 20 and Figure 21 are included as representative stages from Well Y. Both are two proppant ramp
designs with 3 lbs of diverter used in the sweep. For reference, Figure 20 is ranked with 11.5 of 15 clusters
for a 77% PCE, and Figure 21 is ranked with 11 of 15 clusters for a 73% PCE.
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Figure 20Well Y RA tracer log with 3 lbs of diverter deployed in the sweep of a two proppant ramp design.

Figure 21Well Y RA tracer log with 3 lbs of diverter used in the sweep of a two proppant ramp design.

RA Tracer Operational Considerations

In order to maximize the value of the RA tracer logs, the frac plug clean out was performed with a tubing
workstring, and a short trip was done once all plugs were milled up. The tracer log was then run through
the tubing on wireline to TD and logged at a constant speed. Every other stage was traced to gain data
about leaking frac plugs and behind pipe cement isolation. This decision also helped confirm a satisfactory
cleanout of RA tracer from inside of the wellbore before logging. Figure 25 shows an example of the RA
tracer log including two RA traced stages and the stage in between that was not traced.
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Figure 22Well Y RA tracer log showing the clean overall log signature over skipped stages.

Production Results
For the Williston Basin, a 180-day cumulative oil volume is a generally accepted production metric useful
for comparative analysis, and it correlates with longer term cumulative production after three years (Griffin
2013). Both Well X and Well Y had 180 days of production data at the time of writing, and are shown below.
Well X is a horizontal Middle Bakken well and Well Y is a horizontal Three Forks well. Both wells were
drilled from the same pad, but Well Y was drilled to the north and due to an existing diagonal wellbore,
1,450 ft of Well Y was not stimulated. Well X was drilled to the south and did not have any offset wells
to limit its stimulated lateral length.
Figure 24 and Figure 26 show the maps for each well separately so their cumulative oil bubbles can be
distinguished. Based on previously published multi-variate workflows that utilize the NDIC public data
base of completion parameters and production data (Pearson 2013, Griffin 2013, Lolon 2016), expectations
for productivity in a given area and a given completion design were determined. With that in mind, Figure
23 for Well X and Figure 25 for the Well Y show an offset operator comparison and a comparison of actual
results to the pre-drill expectations. The same wells that fed the statistical model are shown in the bar graphs
as operator averages, and on the maps as individual well bubbles. Cluster level data and the use of diverter
is not reported to the NDIC, and thus are not publicly available as inputs into the multi-variate analysis. The
overall results to date have exceeded expectations, with Well Y exceeding expectations by 33% and Well X
exceeding expectations by 39%. The authors believe these positive results are proof of a dramatic increase
in the number of effective clusters by successfully applying an HDP strategy and effective diversion.
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Figure 23Well X offset operator Middle Bakken production comparison.

Figure 24180-Day cumulative oil bubble map for Well X.

Figure 25Well Y offset operator Three Forks production comparison.

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Figure 26180-Day cumulative oil bubble map for Well Y.

Proppant Transport
Proppant transport in the lateral is one of the possible explanations for why toe clusters in any given stage
may not be effective. The topic is thoroughly discussed in several papers (Shah 1990, Jain 2013, Bokane
2013). For a slickwater treatment in 11.6#, 4.5" pipe, Shah (Shah, 1990) showed that ~6.4 bpm provides the
critical velocity at which proppant will begin settling out. While 6.4 bpm is well below the rate most of the
clusters will see downhole, the last few toe side clusters in an HDP stage may be susceptible to approaching
or falling below this rate. When that happens, the toe clusters may be quickly covered up and blocked by
settled out proppant. Figure 27 is the RA tracer log for a stage in which the designed treatment rate of 80
bpm could not be reached (only 67 bpm) and it is obvious that the toe clusters take little to no sand in the 2nd
(yellow - Scandium tracer) and 3rd (red Iridium tracer) proppant ramps. Based on the critical rate of 6.4
bpm, the actual rate achieved and the number of clusters open in the first ramp (blue Antimony tracer), it
is likely that some of these clusters were rapidly covered up by settling proppant. Once the rate per active
cluster exceeded the critical rate, the 2nd and 3rd proppant ramps maintain consistent cluster activity. Notably,
no diverter was deployed on this stage.
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Figure 27Example of toe clusters only being active in the first of three proppant ramps. The first proppant ramp was pumped
below the critical rate of 6.4 bpm for each active cluster, resulting in apparent settling in the liner that buried the toe clusters.

Geomechanical Variability
Diagnostics to date show that best in class PCE starts with the drilling and geosteering plan and successfully
staying stratigraphically flat while drilling. Figure 28 is included as one example of a two ramp treatment
plot for a stage that cut a significant amount of stratigraphy. In this example, a much higher than normal
rise in surface treating pressure occurred when the standard 3 lb dosage of solid particulate diverter was
deployed. The above average pressure response is typical in stages that traverse a lot of stratigraphy intra-
stage indicating fewer perforations were open in the first ramp. It does appear that solid particulate diverter
helps increase the PCE of stages that traverse variable lithology. Figure 29 is the RA tracer log for the same

Figure 28Treatment plot for stage 14 in Well Y which traversed a significant amount of
Three Forks stratigraphy. Notably, the solid particulate diverter applied resulted in a much
higher increase in surface treating pressure than surrounding stages with the same dosage.
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Figure 29RA proppant tracer results for stage 14 in Well Y which traversed a significant amount of Three Forks
stratigraphy. The gamma ray track is included in the log which is representative of two different lithology's present.

Stress Shadowing
RA proppant tracers are only a near wellbore diagnostic and are not indicative of individual frac behavior
outside of the near wellbore region. Lecampion (Lecampion, 2015) showed with numerical modeling that
with sufficient entry pressure friction at the wellbore, it is possible to counteract the stress interactions
between clusters. He also concluded that with surface pressures alone, it is impossible to determine if all
fractures are growing equally. An observation from this case study regarding stress shadowing is that with
the completion design discussed there does not appear to be a bias of more heel cluster activity than toe
cluster activity. Any lack of toe cluster activity appears to be linked to insufficient proppant transport. This
observation is an affirmation of being able to successfully drive significantly more clusters per stage than
commonly acknowledged utilizing a combination of diverter and an HDP strategy.

Utilizing a holistic approach to diversion can effectively and repeatedly increase perforation cluster
efficiency (PCE). Combined with a high density perforating (HDP) strategy, the number of active
perforation clusters within a stage can be driven much higher than commonly acknowledged. Production
results to date have shown a significant increase in productivity, reserves, and capital efficiency. Summary
observations include:

An HDP strategy in conjunction with a holistic approach to diversion resulted in:

An average PCE of 85% or 12.8 active clusters of 15 perforated clusters in the Middle Bakken.
Exceeding statistically derived production expectations by 39% and exceeding the average
offset well production by 240% at 180 days in the Middle Bakken.
An average PCE of 79% or 11.9 active clusters of 15 perforated clusters in the Three Forks.
Exceeding statistically derived production expectations by 33% and exceeding the average
offset well production by 194% at 180 days in the Three Forks.

Particulate diverter can generate repeatable and lasting diversion downhole, increasing PCE.
SPE-184828-MS 19

Fracture geometry and conductivity are important considerations when applying an HDP strategy,
and should continue to be evaluated for long term effects on reserves, value creation and
development scenarios.
Settling velocity is an important consideration when determining the upper limits on how many
perforation clusters can be kept open for a given completion design.
Well planned and executed geosteering in the Bakken/Three Forks minimizes geomechanical
variability and increases PCE.
RA proppant tracers can be applied and quantified to gain a better understanding of the dynamic
behavior that occurs throughout a frac treatment down to the individual cluster level.

The authors would like to thank their co-workers at Liberty Resources and Liberty Oilfield Services who
helped with the preparation and review of this paper. We would also like to thank our service providers for
being very responsive throughout our field trials; Liberty Oilfield Services, PerfX Wireline, Geodynamics
and Protechnics.

Xf = Fracture Half Length [feet]
Xfp = Propped Fracture Half Length [feet]
Hf = Fracture Height [feet]
Hfp = Propped Fracture Height [feet]
Fc = Fracture Conductivity [millidarcy-feet]

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