Freshly fracked wells sent U.S. oil production soaring 39 percent since 2011. That’s the steepest climb in history, and if production continues apace, the U.S. would become the world’s biggest source of oil by 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Rapid well declines threaten to spoil that promise. The average flow from a shale gas well drops by about 50 percent to 75 percent in the first year, and up to 78 percent for oil, said Pete Stark, senior research director at IHS Inc.
‘The decline rate is a potential show stopper after a while,’ said Stark, a geologist with almost six decades in the oil patch. ‘You just can’t keep up with it.’ 
That’s an interesting comment, given that the company Mr. Stark works for is more commonly known for its sunny optimism about our future fossil fuel supply.
FRACKING ISN’T FREE OR EASY
The reality is that rapid decline rates are a common feature of fracked wells. Drilling faster, more, and at higher costs just to keep pace with current production is not exactly a winning strategy. Higher costs for them are supported by the higher costs we pay. At some point, consumers balk, and when they do, there goes a lot of investable funds for more production. Then what?
The article from which that quote was sourced describes some of the admittedly-fascinating overview of the artificial intelligence systems now being considered—and it some cases already deployed—to improve the drill results from fracking (the hydraulic fracturing of shale in order to facilitate the flow of “tight” oil trapped in those rocks.) The article notes that “four out of every 10 clusters of fractures in an average horizontal well are duds.” Given that each well can cost millions of dollars, much more than wells drilled in conventional crude oil fields, that can be a problem.
AN UNSPOKEN CHALLENGE OR TWO
The use of fiber-optics and 3D seismic imaging are among the technological advances now being used to aid scientists “scientists see and hear what’s going on two miles underground.”
An executive of Schlumberger Ltd is quoted in this same article announcing that the combination of their own scientists’ expertise with the “U-ROC” software program “has led to an almost 30 percent increase in production in some wells in the Eagle Ford [TX].”
An official from another petroleum company that after collaborating with Halliburton and using a “science-based approach,” his company’s “shares doubled in the five months after” a conference call with investors.
If that’s not enough good news, by last summer the company enjoyed its “best-ever results” in the shale formations of western Texas’ Permian Basis, “and that it was‘among the best’ among its competitors at that location. The improvements were attributed in part, as a spokesman noted, to the company’s “own internal efforts to pump more time and money into the science of drilling and production.”
A LOOK AT THE UNSPOKEN
Improved performance is improved performance. But for those of us interested in how depleting and finite fossil fuel resources—with a healthy concern that technology and economics will continue to make extraction and production feasible to begin with—will keep up with demand in the years ahead, the doubling of a company’s shares, “an almost 30 percent increase in production in some wells,” being “among the best,” and pumping “more time and money into the science of drilling and production” suggests that all is not well in Oil Production Land.
That’s precisely what those of us concerned about peak oil continue to stress to listeners and readers.
It’s probably safe to assume that none of those efforts or the technologies employed are inexpensive. It’s also a certainty that whatever costs are associated with developing, testing, supplying, and using those impressive advances get passed on to consumers.
The impressive technologies now in play, with their higher costs, to locate and produce a product harder-to-come-by and not of the same quality as the conventional crude oil we’ve used to power our civilization for more than a century all point to the fact that we clearly can no longer rely on Business As Usual in oil production itself and fossil fuel usage by all of us.
Taking a bit of a detour in the headlong pursuit of ever more expensive technologies in order to plan for what happens in years to come when that resource just doesn’t do what we all need it to do; or devote more resources to the alternatives which will be needed when it makes little sense to continue the fossil fuel chase; or even provide more information to the public now so that they can get into the game doesn’t seem all that unreasonable, does it?
~ My Photo: Corona del Mar, CA – 02.16.18