Clustered in parallel trends around the edges of the Peace River Arch in northern Alberta, the Slave Point carbonate play is the latest to owe its success to horizontal wells and multistage fracturing technology.
“People have known for a long time there’s a lot of oil there; they just haven’t been able to get it out,” says Brad Hayes, president of Petrel Robertson Consulting Ltd. “There are big fairways to play in there; it’s not just some little trend.”
However, the low-permeability Upper Devonian play presents some challenges for those hoping to exploit it, according to Hayes. The Peace River Arch was once a highland and the reefs grew around the edges. “As the sea level changed, the reefs grew in different places, so there’s quite an intricate set of maps you can draw to find these reefs at all different spots,” he says.
“It’s not quite as simple a picture as in central Alberta where there’s a widespread platform and the reefs build up from it.” It can be difficult to distinguish one level from another, and attempting to map a continuous carbonate package can be tricky if there are not a lot of existing wells, he cautions.
But with a large supply of original 39 API degree oil in place, existing infrastructure, reservoirs amenable to secondary recovery through waterfloods and the ability to downspace, the Slave Point resource play offers a lucrative target with both reef and platform production, making that challenge worth the effort.
Penn West Exploration Ltd., which is chasing the Swan Hills carbonate to the south, was one of the first players in the Slave Point horizontal play. In both formations and in Penn West wells and competitor wells, these plays “have seen the highest consistent production of oil in any of the tight oil plays in western Canada,” Rob Wollmann, vice-president of exploration, told Penn West’s investor day last fall.
“Specifically, we are seeing wells producing 200, 300, 400, 500 or even more barrels a day.”
That emerging potential hasn’t escaped the notice of industry, and over the past two years it has sparked a rash of drilling and what one executive described as a gold rush, with one parcel on the edge of the Peace River Arch fetching more than $5,000 per hectare.
JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group records show that since January 2000, operators have licensed 680 wells listing the Slave Point as the targeted formation. With the evolution of horizontal drilling and multi-fracturing technology, activity has accelerated over the past two years with 391 wells with oil as the objective licensed since Jan. 1, 2010. Of those, 381 have been horizontal wells.