In the beginning, oil and natural gas wells were a vertical-only solution (think soda straw). Resources were gathered from a single point where the wellbore intersected a petroleum-bearing layer. Then came horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which dramatically improved production along an extended horizontal section of a single shale layer.
And now, comes the technique known as ‘cube’ development. It’s not a new technology, but rather a new technique that puts up to 20 or more horizontal wells to work from the same pad location.
Like its name implies, this approach taps resources using a three-dimensional, multi-layer approach. Picture a typical horizontal well, with up to 20 or more additional horizontal wells. The upside potential is obvious but it also requires up-front operating expenses that could be cost-prohibitive for some.
Flash in the oil patch, or wave of the future?
In a business known for capital-intensive start-up costs, cube development dwarfs all other drilling techniques. All wells must be drilled before production can begin, so the higher cost of drilling and the length of time before operators can show a return can be too much for some producers. But, the upside potential could be worth it.
Scaling up production in the biggest way.
Economies of scale help make cube development feasible. Rather than 20 or more rigs operating on separate sites, with all the crew and equipment needed for each one, cube drilling is all done in one well site—albeit a highly complex and sophisticated well site.
Pushing the limits.
Multiple wells, branching out within several horizontal layers of oil shale can generate tremendous production volumes with corresponding high economic returns. Operators in the Permian Basin have led the way in cube development and Oklahoma producers are joining in. Devon has a 24-well cube development operation in Oklahoma.
A multi-well cube development operation is large and complex to be sure. But it’s actually easier on the environment. Since the wells share all the necessary infrastructure at one site which means a smaller footprint and less surface disruption.
Some producers are banking on cube development, while others are less optimistic. Concerns over operation costs have led some companies to limit their multi-well sites to six or eight per pad. While it’s still too early to tell if cube development will be the way of the future, one thing is certain; industry interest is only gaining momentum.
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