Integrated Methodology for Optimizing Development of Unconventional Gas Resources

Gupta, Jugal (Exxon Mobil Corporation) | Zielonka, Matias (Exxon Mobil Corporation) | Albert, Richard Alan (ExxonMobil Upstream Research Co.) | El-Rabaa, Abdelwadood M. (Exxon Mobil Corporation) | Burnham, Heather Anne (XTO Energy) | Choi, Nancy Hyangsil (ExxonMobil Upstream Research Co.)


Fracture nucleation and propagation are controlled by in-situ stresses, fracture treatment design, presence of existing fractures (natural or induced), and geological history. In addition, production driven depletion and offset completions may alter stresses and hence fracture growth. For unconventional oil and gas assets the complexity resulting from the interplay of fracture characteristics, pressure depletion, and stress distribution on well performance remains one of the foremost hurdles in their optimal development, impacting infill well and refracturing programs.

To this end, ExxonMobil has undertaken a multi-disciplinary approach that integrates fracture characteristics, reservoir production, and evolution of the stress field to design and optimize developments of unconventional assets. In this approach, fracture modeling and advanced rate transient techniques are employed to constrain fracture geometry and depletion characteristics of existing wells. This knowledge is used in finite element geomechanical modeling (coupling stresses and fluid flow) to predict fracture orientation in nearby wells.

In this paper, an integrated methodology is described using case studies for two shale gas pads. The study reveals a strong connection between reservoir depletion behavior and the spatial and temporal distribution of stresses. These models predict that principal stresses are influenced far beyond the drainage area of a horizontal well and hence play a critical role in fracture orientation and performance of neighboring wells. Strategies for manipulating stresses were evaluated to control fracture propagation by injecting, shutting-in, and producing offset wells. Collective interpretation of completion, reservoir depletion and changes in stresses explained varying performances of wells and enabled evaluation of infill potential on the pad. This workflow can be used to develop strategies for (1) optimal infill design, (2) controlling propagation of fractures in new neighboring wells, and (3) refracturing of existing wells.