The first half of this post is a guest post by Enno Peters. The second half is taken from the latest EIA Drilling Productivity Report.
GEOGRAPHICAL ANALYSIS OF WELL QUALITY IN NORTH DAKOTA
by Enno Peters
I was interested in doing a geographical analysis of the oil production in North Dakota. Detailed information made freely available by the NDIC allowed me to analyze how, geographically, wellperformance has been changing over time, in the area of North Dakota where most oil is produced.
In the following animated gif, you will see part of North Dakota. It contains the North West corner that borders Montana and Canada. The scale is in miles, with a rather arbitrary origin. Projected on this map is a contour map. The numbers of these contours are the cumulative 1 year returns for wells drilled within that area, and the unit is 1000 barrels of oil (no gas). For example, contours with the value 50 mark the area in which wells produced at least 50 k barrels of oil in their first year.
I could calculate the surface areas of several levels of first year well returns, in order to determine the trend of these areas. In the following chart you can see for each year the (estimated) surface volumes for 3 levels of first year well returns, 50k, 80k, and 110 k barrels of oil.
The sudden increase in 2013 of estimated productive surface area, in which wells could produce at least 50 k barrels of oil in their first year, may be explained by
1) the fact that I could only use data until June 2013 (as the 2014 May data is currently the latest one available), and therefore the number of data points are 1/3 of what I have for 2012. The method to determine the contours may not be suitable with this number of data points.
2) changing well practices
3) entering of new formations
So far I suspect that it is mostly 1), but that 2) and 3) could also be part of the answer, and therefore recommend to mostly ignore the 2013 results for now.
As a guide to interpret these results, I estimate (based on a discounted cash flow analysis) that a well that returns 50 k barrels of oil needs a minimum WTI price of about $120; about $82 WTI is needed for 80 k wells or better, and a well that returns 110 k barrels of oil in its first year is about even with $64 WTI. These are rough indications; I have seen a good analysis that estimates 10% higher required WTI prices for these levels of well performance. With current prices that would mean that 50 k wells are not profitable, while 80+ k wells clearly are.
I further estimate that the estimated total oil return (EUR) of a well is just over 4 times its first year return.