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SPE 152874

SPE 152874 A New Approach To Fracturing And Completion Operations In The Eagle Ford Shale Robert

A New Approach To Fracturing And Completion Operations In The Eagle Ford Shale

Robert Fulks, Weatherford; Steve Smythe, Weatherford

Copyright 2012, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the EAGE Annual Conference & Exhibition incorporating SPE Europec held in Copenhagen, Denmark, 47 June 2012.

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 th e 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 not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous ac knowledgment of SPE copyright.

must contain conspicuous ac knowledgment of SPE copyright. Abstract Completions and multizone fracturing operations in
must contain conspicuous ac knowledgment of SPE copyright. Abstract Completions and multizone fracturing operations in

Abstract Completions and multizone fracturing operations in the Eagle Ford Shale are complex undertakings. Effectively managing hydraulic fracturing projects becomes even more complex when multiple service providers and suppliers are required to work in a coordinated sequential fashion. By late 2009 daylight completions work in the Eagle Ford evolved into 24 hour a day operations to maximize asset availability primarily hydraulic horsepower.

Completions were accomplished in fewer days using the 24 hour approach, but efficiencies and safety suffered. However, a select group of Eagle Ford operators were concerned with the drop in performance. These operators chose to adopt an integrated services approach where one service company provided the majority of equipment and personnel on completions jobs. This new approach achieved both fewer days per completion and high KPI efficiency (e.g. stages per day, fewer safety incidents, etc.) as well as improving communication and teamwork. An explanation of this new approach is detailed here.

Introduction: The Eagle Ford Shale The Eagle Ford Shale is a Cretaceous age basin located in Texas extending from the border with Louisiana southwest to the border with Mexico. See Figure 1. The Eagle Ford is unique because of its segregation into three distinct productive intervals oil, wet gas/condensate and dry gas zones. Drilling an Eagle Ford well with a 16,000’ measured depth usually takes 20 days or less. Once the rig is demobilized completion operations can begin. Total completion time from site preparation through well testing & frac flowback can take up to 45 days.

Figure 1.

Eagle Ford map courtesy of U.S. Energy Information Administration

& frac flowback can take up to 45 days. Figure 1. Eagle Ford map courtesy of


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In 2010 horizontal laterals lengths in the Eagle Ford averaged between 3,500’ to 4,000’ and included 12 -14 separate stages. By mid-2011 laterals averaged nearly 4,500’ and were made up of sixteen separate stages in the Eagle Ford shale. At the beginning of February 2012 more than 220 drilling rigs were at work in the Eagle Ford. At the same time approximately 60 hydraulic fracturing fleets were available to operators in the Eagle Ford shale.

The Eagle Ford shale requires large fleets of high pressure hydraulic fracturing equipment to effectively complete a multistage stimulation in zones composed largely of calcareous mudstone. Due to the high level of activity it became common practice in the Eagle Ford shale for operators to secure long term contracts with fracturing providers as opposed to relying on the spot market. This practice permitted operators to bring wells on line as quickly as possible.

In addition to the fracturing fleet numerous service providers are also involved in the completion process. The service providers on site at a multistage completion include at a minimum hydraulic fracturing, cased-hole wireline, composite frac plugs, perforation guns, cranes, lubricators, pressure testing and frac flowback, frac tank providers, fuel trucks, water services, sand/proppant trucks, coiled tubing, tubing conveyed perforation and micro-seismic companies. See figure 2 to get a view of how crowded a busy location can become during fracturing operations. The high pressure (15,000 psi rated) area is highlighted. Safety protocol requires limiting access to this area. It is common in south Texas for technicians from multiple service providers to meet for the first time on an operator’s well location; being brought together with the expectation that they will work together efficiently and safely.

Figure 2.

A multi-stage fracturing treatment underway in the Eagle Ford shale, south Texas. Note the high pressure area.

Eagle Ford shale, south Texas. Note the high pressure area. Many times the operations go according

Many times the operations go according to plan. However, sometimes the lack of familiarity between service technicians on location contributes to problems. Between 2009 and the middle of 2011 Eagle Ford well costs (AFE costs) rose 24% from an average $6.64 million to nearly $8.22 million. During the same time completion costs rose from 50% of AFE costs to over 60%. Fracturing costs alone rose from 35% of overall AFE’s to nearly 45% of well cost. See Figure 3 below for more detail.

The primary reasons for the increased costs were longer laterals, increased stage count and higher proppant pricing. But a contributing factor for higher costs was inherent inefficiency. Operators insisted on improved performance from service providers as well activity in the Eagle Ford shale reached historic levels.

Statement of Theory and Definitions Against this background Weatherford’s response to rising well costs was introducing a new approach to completion services. The theory behind the new approach was one of enhanced efficiency through better orchestration of the completion processes accompanied by transference of risk to the service provider. Weatherford’s management in south Texas was certain the more steps of the completion process under its control the greater the opportunity for efficiency improvement.

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The next challenge became convincing operators of the value brought about by committing to this new integrated approach. Weatherford was certain long term relationships with client operators could be based on delivering a measurably better completion and by focusing on constant improvements in service efficiency. Weatherford termed the new approach Integrated Completions Management (ICM).

Figure 3.

AFE Cost Analysis for Eagle Ford wells in 2011

Figure 3. AFE Cost Analysis for Eagle Ford wells in 2011 Description and Application of Equipment

Description and Application of Equipment and Processes Nearly all operators in the Eagle Ford shale use the multizone completion process commonly known as “plug and perf”. Plug and perf is characterized by stage separation with a composite frac plug and perforated clusters through which the fracture treatment fluids are directed. The following list of activities gives an abbreviated idea of the sequence of operations involved in an Eagle Ford shale completion using the plug and perf process:

1. While the rig is on location install the casing in the horizontal section to total depth (TD).

2. Cement the casing and run cement bond logs when possible to determine adequate zonal isolation is established.

3. Demobilize rig; set wellhead

4. Set up location for completion operations

5. Run water lines or establish water internment pond

6. Install frac stack and organize lubricator and crane

7. Rig up fracturing equipment and high pressure manifold area

8. Rig up coiled tubing unit (CTU) with tubing conveyed perforating (TCP) for first stage

9. Run coil to TD and perforate toe stage

10. Pump fluid/proppant to fracture first stage

11. Rig up cased hole wireline unit and run composite plug and perforating gun assembly through lubricator

12. Set composite frac plug at top of first stage and position perforating guns. Perforate 4 to 6 clusters. POOH.

13. Pump second stage ……

14. Rig down fracturing equipment, lubricator, crane and wireline unit

15. Rig up CTU and milling assembly

16. Mill out plugs

17. Rig up pressure testing and frac flowback equipment (separators, flare stack, manifold, instrumentation)

18. Run pressure tests to establish IP; continue flow back to clean out well

19. Put well on production via pipeline hookup

repeat process until all stages are done.


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As stated earlier the process of completing a well can take 40 - 45 days before the location is cleared, a production tree is set and the well is put on line and connected to a pipeline. An Eagle Ford completion is managed at the wellsite by an operating company representative called the company man. A company man in south Texas is normally an experienced consultant hired by the operator. Managing the logistics and the timing of proppant, water, fuel and other truck deliveries to the wellsite along with the myriad service personnel involved in the completion process is a complicated challenge.

Weatherford recognized that managing non productive time (NPT) throughout the completion process is a key performance indicator (KPI) of project efficiency and the one most important to operators. Plug and perf completions in particular are rife with NPT issues. Focusing on NPT made introducing the new integrated services approach (ICM) straight forward. A short list of potential clients was agreed upon including several south Texas operators who had never used Weatherford fracturing services. Interestingly the first three operators approached by Weatherford agreed to give the integrated services approach a try. However, the new approach was not a one size fits all method.

Each operator adopted ICM differently against a backdrop of reducing completion costs. Each had a unique culture and approach to completions. And in each case the ICM concept was adapted to the client’s needs. At the field level all the consultant company men were initially resistant to changing out service suppliers. Making a change to the status quo was not simple.

One operator was establishing its own fracturing service company at the same time it was beginning a new services contract with Weatherford. How would the relationship develop in this case? Another operator placed great emphasis on their internal supply chain involvement. One client focused emphasis on introducing new technology. One client had a tolerance for making mistakes as part of pursuing long term improvement. Others were conservative about making too many changes at once. With each operator a set of baseline measurements (KPI’s) was agreed upon. The individual cases studies are described in the following section.

Presentation of Data and Results Case 1: Operator A In 2009 operator A was operating five drilling rigs when Weatherford was selected as the fracturing service provider. The client was interested in forming a working relationship with a service company that offered more of a “one stop shop” for completions. Cased-hole wireline, perforating, plug services and micro-seismic were eventually introduced. However, in the early weeks of the new relationship fracturing services were the only focus.

To bring focus to the operator’s fracturing program a dedicated services coordinator was assigned to work in the client’s office in Houston full time. The operator was drilling wells efficiently and developed a backlog of wells waiting to be completed. The operator’s biggest need at this time was to reduce the backlog. The initial KPI’s for this client were focused on fracturing jobs per month and frac stages completed per day.

At the same time the Weatherford coordinator reported to the client’s office in Houston a field services coordinator was assigned to the client’s wellsite location in south Texas. At first the client’s on site consultant was not enthusiastic about the addition. But the on-site coordinator fit in quickly and became a contributor to the ongoing completions effort. Planning and scheduling improvements were noted from the beginning. The client soon appreciated the value of the on-site coordinator.

The on-site service coordinator came equipped with a performance tracking software. (WPTS) Weatherford Performance Tracking System software was used to record every event related to the fracturing and completion operation. WPTS augmented similar well planning/scheduling software employed by the operators. Early WPTS reports to the operator contained an analysis of NPT detailing problem areas while also tracking service performance history.

areas while also tracking service performance history. Figure 4. Report to operator A showing frac stages/day

Figure 4. Report to operator A showing frac stages/day improvement. A competitor performed a frac job as a check (green bar).

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As the Weatherford completion team on site became more familiar the work process flow stage count increased every month. Contributing to the improvement was the comfort level achieved in certain key operations requiring coordination between wireline, plug/perf and the frac service team. Using frac units to pump down wireline plug/perf tools is one example of a high potential NPT work process that benefitted from crew members working together over time on many jobs. Plug issues and perforating gun problems showed constant improvement.

Early successes witnessed an average of between 3 and 4 stages completed per 24 hour day. After the first few months Operator A began an initiative to increase frac stages per day. The goal was set at 5 stages per day. The on-site coordinator and the in-house coordinator in Houston worked together and found time savings in the work process that increased efficiency. Within weeks 5 stages per day were achieved for an entire month.

Yet the bar was raised once again. Typically a Weatherford frac crew was pumping 22 days in a month. The other days of the month were used for maintenance at the district base and travel time to set up on new locations. With each job taking an average of 7 days from start to finish a total of three wells completions per month were used in most calculations. Operator A, with the urging of Weatherford’s in-house coordinator, amended the initiative from 5 stages per day to 5 wells per month, and named the new initiative “Strive for Five”.

At first “Strive for Five” seemed mathematically impossible. There simply weren’t enough days in a month. It was at this point that Weatherford’s south Texas area manager got involved and asked for ideas from everyone involved with Operator

A. Brainstorming began. Ideas about performing more maintenance in the field were coupled with ideas dealing with

staging equipment earlier on upcoming locations. Issues with positioning proppant in advance were arranged with the trucking contractor. Within two months “Strive for Five” became a reality and today five jobs per month is the efficiency gold standard in south Texas for plug and perf completions.

Case 2: Operator B Operator B was the first client to embrace the integrated services approach. Operator B had high expectations from the beginning. Many of the same scheduling and planning issues encountered by Operator A also occurred with Operator B. Best practices and lessons learned were transferred from client to client via communication between Weatherford’s in-house and on-site service coordinators. One senior on-site coordinator began rotating between the three operators on a regular schedule which helped to ensure transfer of best practices.

Considerable focus was again placed on fracturing efficiency. The metric used in this instance was frac stages pumped per month. Weatherford’s on-site coordinator and in-house coordinator exchanged ideas for operational short cuts that would not compromise safety.

Three efficiencies improvements were successfully adopted. Crews would no longer hesitate to begin pumping a new stage that overlapped with crew change. In the past as crews changed out twice a day there would be a work stoppage to exchange information and hold a safety meeting. The team came up with a new process to address the communication exchange and safety during crew handovers. During the same time period in 2011 Operator B followed the recommendation of Weatherford’s in-house coordinator and begin using a zipper frac manifold set up which also improved time savings.

The crews working for Operator B and the on-site service coordinator noticed time gaps in the transition between pumping stages caused by taking time to prime and test the frac equipment after the perforating guns were pulled through the lubricator. By beginning the priming process after the last perf charges were fired downhole the frac equipment was ready to go the moment the guns cleared the wellhead.

Together these two changes enabled two and often three additional stages per day. Operator B saved $80,000 per day. Stages per month soared from 43 per month to 71. Weatherford benefitted as well. Up to seven stages per day have been achieved on certain wells. More jobs per month meant more revenue from increased asset utilization and commodity sales of chemicals and proppant.

As Operator B began to rely on Weatherford to provide more of the completion services (e.g. wireline, coiled tubing, plugs, TCP, milling services, and frac stacks, etc.) synergies developed. Scheduling became more reliable. The client in this case received a secondary benefit. Weatherford had confidence enough in its own planning, scheduling and process control that a risk transfer was realized by the operator. One of the practices which contributed to higher costs for completions was standby charges.


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Weatherford eliminated standby charges for its entire service package. If any element of Weatherford’s service team caused downtime there were no standby charges accrued for any of Weatherford’s integrated services. This “stop the clock” policy was contrary to prevailing oilfield practice. On non-integrated jobs if a plug problem is encountered by service company Z, the frac service provider Y begins charging for standby time as does every service company on location.

Weatherford’s south Texas management team had confidence that in the long term adopting a “stop the clock” policy was justified because of the efficiency improvements documented in the first year of rolling out the ICM approach. Weatherford could show evidence to operators that NPT within Weatherford’s control would be Weatherford’s responsibility. Weatherford would bear its own cost for any self inflicted inefficiency. This has proven to be a risk worth taking.

One of the standard communication tools used by Operator B was quarterly operations reviews. Operator B had a performance tracking scorecard promoted by their supply chain group. KPI’s were agreed upon and tracked by both the operator and Weatheford WPTS. Operator B placed a high priority on “speaking the same language”. The scores were compared during the quarterly performance reviews. One of the KPI’s used is shown below.

Figure 5. Risk transfer is an element of Integrated Completions Management (ICM)

is an element of Integrated Completions Management (ICM) Case 3: Operator C Operator C is the

Case 3: Operator C Operator C is the most interesting of the three cases if only for the fact the client was establishing its own stimulation service company at the same time it entered a long term contract for the same service with Weatherford. Clearly performance and KPI tracking would be a high priority to Operator C. From the beginning Weatherford’s in-house coordinator in Fort Worth and the on-site coordinator in south Texas made an impact on efficiency.

Operator C exhibited a culture quite different from the other operators. The client stated publically they had a tolerance for operational mistakes because valuable lessons were gleaned from pushing the envelope. Operator C also placed more emphasis on the use of integrating 3-D seismic and LWD technology to determine wellbore positioning, production logs (PLT) to understand the effectiveness of perforation cluster placement, tracers to better quantify stage production contribution, and micro-seismic to document fracture complexity. Operator B also showed a willingness to move away from slickwater frac designs and experiment with hybrid and cross-linked fluids as well as various proppant types.

When the subject of integrating completions services using an ICM approach arose Weatherford anticipated a readiness for rapid implementation on the part of Operator C. Weatherford was mistaken. Operator C’s senior management team was experimenting with vertical integration to reduce costs. Drilling rigs and hydraulic stimulation equipment was purchased and crews brought on board. In 2011 Operator C claimed in its presentations to the investment community that their vertical integration approach was saving nearly $1.7 million per well. Operator C employed a willingness to experiment certainly. But the approach involved change only one variable at a time so any change in results could be better attributed to a single event.

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It was thought that the ICM approach would have to simmer on the back burner for a while. Emphasis was focused on fracturing efficiency. Operator C planned its logistics well. Proppant delivery issues virtually disappeared when Weatherford was permitted a three month lead time. Frac planning included information on clay-typing of future wells. This led to gel loading calculations and better fluids design. Post job reporting, once done on Weatherford’s standard reporting forms, were now logged directly into the client’s well tracking software. Efficiencies and job performance improvements compounded.

In 2011 when Weatherford finally got a contract from Operator C to provide coiled tubing services there was a high expectation regarding service efficiency. These expectations peaked when it was learned Operator C had also purchased its own coiled tubing units as a part of its vertical integration initiative. During the next early months of 2011 Weatherford focused on coil tubing efficiency as well as fracturing performance. At the 2 nd quarter review with Operator C the KPI’s shown in the following charts give some idea of how performance has progressed.

On the positive side the 25 minutes needed to mill out plugs is outstanding considering the industry average in south Texas is closer to one hour per plug. Weatherford is less impressive on overall coiled tubing NPT. The sheer number of failure classifications is an indication that performance and work processes can be improved. Nonetheless it should be noted this kind of detailed reporting is in itself an indication of the kind of focus necessary to drive performance improvement. By the end of 2011 Weatherford agreed with Operator C that in order to meet new requirements it would deliver new coiled tubing equipment capable of unspooling 30,000’ of 2” coiled tubing in 2012. ICM provide the data necessary to make this decision.

Figure 6. Coiled Tubing KPI’s Reported to Operator C

Figure 6. Coiled Tubing KPI’s Reported to Operator C Figure 7. On-site service coordinator at frac

Figure 7.On-site service coordinator at frac monitoring unit

C Figure 7. On-site service coordinator at frac monitoring unit Figure 8. Inside a hydraulic fracturing
C Figure 7. On-site service coordinator at frac monitoring unit Figure 8. Inside a hydraulic fracturing

Figure 8. Inside a hydraulic fracturing monitoring unit

C Figure 7. On-site service coordinator at frac monitoring unit Figure 8. Inside a hydraulic fracturing


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8 SPE 152874 Figure 9. Production testing and frac flowback operations Figure 10. Photo of a

Figure 9.

Production testing and frac flowback operations

Figure 9. Production testing and frac flowback operations Figure 10. Photo of a coiled tubing unit

Figure 10. Photo of a coiled tubing unit used by Operator C

Conclusions The introduction of the Integrated Completions Management (ICM) approach in south Texas has been an important milestone for Weatherford. In every situation where the ICM approach was used, operators experienced significant improvements in service delivery. Moreover the improvements in service performance were documented, communicated to and acknowledged by our clients. It can be stated with certainty ICM serves as a touchstone for improving relationships with client operators.

The operational service efficiencies in the Eagle Ford set our global service standards today. As ICM enters its fourth year achievements in service excellence continue to be achieved. Approaches such as ICM and system tools like WPTS are solid foundations upon which to build a culture of excellence. But they are only part of the story.

The real ingredient of success is the commitment made by everyone in south Texas to the culture of continuous improvement – of never being satisfied with today’s achievements. It is our hope this paper describing the genesis of ICM will be the first of many case histories documenting our commitment to service excellence through continuous improvement.

References King, George E. 2010. Thirty Years of Gas Shale Fracturing: What Have We Learned? SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibit. Florence, Italy. 10

Terms/abbreviations used


Key Performance Indicator

Used as benchmark for service standard indexing


Authorization for Expenditure

The budget for an individual well


Integrated Completions Management

Weatherford’s new approach to completions improvement


Coiled tubing unit


Tubing conveyed perforating

Conveying perforating guns to depth using coil tubing


Total depth of a well


Non-peformance time

A record of project inactivity brought


Weatherford Performance Tracking System

A software used by WFT to monitor & record well activity

Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank Weatherford and Weatherford’s south Texas senior management team for allowing operations details to be included in this publication.

Dean McMahan, on-site coordinator Allan Rostant, on-site coordinator Lonnie Cavazos, on-site coordinator Brian Carline, client in-house coordinator Joey Guerra, client in-house coordinator Mike Kirby, client in-house coordinator

Marla Araiza, performance analyst, El Paso Daniel Maglaris, Coiled Tubing subject matter expert Johnnie Howard, South Texas Sales Manager Byron Sprawls, South Texas Frac Manager Adrian Gonzalez, Alice District Manager Fracturing Art Maldonado, Area Facility Manager