Many companies boast about their growing average lateral length, and many factors go into this concept. There are many operational challenges and risks to consider when attempting to drill a well with a longer lateral. The Longer the lateral, the more time/money required to drill the well, and operational risks of getting casing to bottom and conduction completions operations also increase quite a bit as the lateral length increases.
Despite the difficulty in drilling and completing wells with longer lateral lengths, many companies proudly boast the usage of long-lateral wells because it ultimately leads to a lower all-in development cost in terms of total dollars per barrel of oil equivalent.
What Determines Lateral Length?
Many factors contribute to determining the proper lateral length. Lateral length is defined by the length measured in feet of the horizontal portion of the wellbore. The lateral of a horizontal wellbore is what provides the contact area with the oil and gas-bearing rock formation of interest. The more footage of oil and gas-bearing rock the wellbore touches the more oil and gas the well will produce which is the main goal of oil and gas development. If the volume of produced oil does not cover the costs to drill and complete the well then everyone loses as no wells will get drilled.
According to Adam Ferrari, CEO of Ferrari Energy, due to the items noted above, companies are always pushing the technical limits of the day in order to drill the longest possible laterals as this results in the least amount of surface land used and the most economic wellbores. Before horizontal drilling became commonplace, oil and gas companies were limited to vertical wells only which drastically limits the contact area between the wellbore and oil and gas-bearing rocks and thus limits the volume of hydrocarbons available to be recovered per well.
Longer lateral lengths are becoming a rising industry standard, and most companies report cost per lateral foot. When a company utilizes the best practices concerning lateral length, they are more likely to ensure the wells drilled remain economic even in lower commodity price environments.
Every company is now utilizing proper technology to meet the competitors’ challenges, and therefore longer lateral lengths have become the hot-notch, and the most discussing topic in the petroleum industry. Such wells always have a maximum capacity for higher percentage production with lower drilling costs.
Benefits of Longer Lateral Length
Many companies are starting to incorporate longer well lateral lengths for increased productivity. Oil companies drilling the Utica formation in both Ohio and Pennsylvania have achieved a 23% increase in their Bcf/D production rates from 2016 to now by drilling longer later length wells. Longer lateral lengths can result in lower drilling costs and lower overall production costs as noted above.
The company always looks towards the advancement in technology to beat its competitors. The trend of horizontal well with longer lateral length is becoming more popular in this modern era. It’s all because of the revolution in chemical engineering and its techniques. Different techniques and methodologies have been done to modify the wells’ structure and their directions with various lateral lengths. The horizontal longer lateral length methodology has provided the maximum production capacity for the company.
It would take multiple vertical wells to achieve the same surface exposure as one lateral well, so multiple sets of production equipment would be necessary for the vertical well scenario, as compared to the one set of production equipment that is necessary when working with a well that has a good lateral length and a surprising amount of contact.
In summary, drilling long lateral horizontal wells results in less surface usage vs. vertical drilling which is widely considered a good thing.
Longer lateral lengths do have some considerable drawbacks to consider as well, such as high levels of operational risks. During drilling operations getting stuck in the hole becomes much more likely as the lateral length increases. Getting stuck could require very costly cutting and sidetrack operations in order to salvage the wellbore. During completion operations, there are numerous steps that become riskier as lateral lengths increase. For example, if a coiled tubing rig is required due to a frac job screen out, the coiled tubing may not be able to reach the proper depth if the lateral is very long. When this happens valuable portions of drilled wellbore could be lost forever. These risk factors are critical to the considerations involved in determining the optimal lateral length.
There are many benefits that are available to those who invest in long lateral length wellbores as opposed to vertical drilling techniques. Horizontal drilling with long lateral lengths has become the industry standard of today and operators are constantly pushing the limits to remain competitive. The trend of longer lateral lengths will likely continue as engineering technology continues to evolve.
It’s not a big deal to utilize longer lateral lengths, but some main technical issues can create some drilling complications. The production rate depends upon the longer lateral length with positive consequences. It’s imperative to tackle all the technical difficulties while utilizing the longer lateral lengths methodology. There may get a chance of issues like severe doglegs and alternative well’s directions.
Hopefully, with the assistance of Adam Ferrari, we’ve managed to break down what lateral lengths are and how they differ from vertical drilling. There are plenty of upsides of wider lateral lengths and as we have already pointed out Horizontal drilling with long lateral lengths is now a standard across the boards.
Of course, we have also pointed some downsides, and people who are in the oil and gas industry should keep that in mind as well.