Well Pad Site located in MarcellusThe use of hydraulic fracturing technology and horizontal drilling in shale plays across the U.S. have consistently opened new markets and increased American production levels since the early 2000s. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) most recent drilling productivity report notes that shale plays are responsible for about 95% of American petroleum production growth as well as being solely responsible for all domestic natural gas production growth. Even shale plays, the greatest area of growth in the energy industry, have suffered from significant slowdown since 2011, according to a Bloomberg report this March. The recent down cycles in the energy industry have led those involved in shale plays to search for ways to increase efficiency and improve their infrastructure. Given the slowdown in production, cutting costs from within has become paramount to many businesses. December’s downcycle saw layoffs occur on a large scale, and several smaller energy companies sold out. But less drastic methods of cost savings are available to industry professionals. Using imagery and digital elevation models (DEMs) can improve operational efficiency for operators working in the shale plays. Using advanced imagery to spot wells and site well pads can reduce the costly technical and operational challenges in shale plays. Here’s why this state-of-the-art geospatial imagery and information is a worthy investment:
  1. Reduce the timeline of site construction and drilling (spud)
Despite the contribution of shale plays to rapid growth in the petroleum and gas industry, these unconventional sites are usually far more complex than traditional hydrocarbon developments. They present unique environmental and technological challenges before final well staking can be achieved. In a study with a mid-tier international oil and gas company, preliminary surveyor’s checks were required 2-3 times per location before being able to commit to a location. Stumbling blocks and concerns, which led to features being checked multiple times, were contributing to longer pre-spud timelines. But the company already used remote sensed imagery in exploration and monitoring. It was just a matter of extending the use of imagery and DEMs to the developmental phase for a cost-effective and efficient extension of existing operations. Using high-resolution aerial photographs and off-the-shelf digital terrain and surface models, geologists, site construction, environmental and drilling staff can work more quickly and with more accuracy to streamline road planning time and construction costs. Rig counts go up and idle time goes down, and time to spud decreases as well.
  1. Improve efficiency and maximize profit
High-resolution aerial images have been able to identify areas of shale plays that could be extended within lease ownership boundaries without violating mineral rights that were previously unidentified by traditional surveying equipment. Being able to extend laterals within the shale play by several hundred feet easily increases the production levels of the site. Furthermore, the same aerial photographs can help to reveal road and access opportunities not shown on traditional or existing maps. Since sites experience rapid growth and development, shale plays are often capable of yielding more petroleum or gas than the infrastructure and personnel can transport. Planning transportation using high resolution images can address such workflow issues before they occur.
  1. Reduce the cost of design and construction
An obvious savings occurs with the reduction of field visits to ensure the proper location of each drilling site. Since operations are streamlined to a reduced timeline, better use can be made of drilling and field personnel time. This in turn can lead to a reduction of idle rigs as teams can stay further ahead the drilling schedule. Surveyor’s trips during preliminary planning average $2,000 per visit. During design and construction, the accuracy and efficiency of utilizing high-resolution aerial photography in the analysis of surface features can cut $4,000-$8,000 per pad construction site. In development sites with multiple wells, these savings add up quickly. An initial investment of $45,000 in high resolution aerial imagery equipment, such as IFSAR DEMS and orthophoto mosaics, can be recouped in less than two months of operations. Average savings increase significantly with large-scale development projects. For example, a 300-well site can save $450,000-$675,000 in surveyors’ costs for pad sties and up to $900,000 in facilities surveyor’s costs; an impressive $1.2-$2.4 million can be saved in pad site construction costs. Both the U.S. and the Paris EIA share the pessimistic prediction that shale play production may level by as soon as 2016. The volatile nature of the energy market demands that companies look inward to their operations and make wise decisions. Implementing high resolution aerial photography and utilizing the digital elevation models they yield is a vital cost cutting measure for mid-tier and large scale production sites intending to move forward. For more information and insight on high resolution imagery and digital elevation models visit DigitalGlobe at the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference in San Antonio, Texas, July 20-22, 2015 - Booth #369.
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