Dry gas production in the US is dominated by two major gas-specific plays: the Marcellus/Utica in the Northeast and the Haynesville Shale in Northwest Louisiana. The Haynesville has long been billed as the next big thing in gas, and the play has seen increased production albeit not to the same level as its counterpart in the Northeast. In October 2019, Marcellus/Utica dry gas production averaged over 32.1 Bcf/d while Haynesville production was 64% lower at 11.5 Bcf/d. With rig counts in both basins at nearly identical levels, today’s Energy Market Commentary will look at how smaller pad sizes are driving lower rig efficiencies in the Haynesville.
As of the most recent Baker Hughes report, rig counts in the Haynesville and the Northeast are extremely similar with active rigs in the Haynesville slightly outnumbering Marcellus/Utica rigs 51 to 50. However, despite the similar rig levels, drilling efficiency between the two regions varies significantly. Average Marcellus/Utica monthly rig efficiency in 2019 is approximately 1.75 wells per rig. This is significantly higher than the 0.86 monthly wells per rig in the Haynesville. These values are summarized in the table below.
Naturally, this raises the question of why such a large discrepancy in rig efficiency exists between the two plays. While there are a variety of factors that impact drilling efficiencies, one glaring difference between the Marcellus and the Haynesville id the size of drilling pads. This can be illustrated by plotting well locations as shown in the maps below. Map 1 shows five pads in the Marcellus averaging 5.2 wells per pad. In Map 2, a similar collection of five groups in the Haynesville average just 2 wells per group.
Kind of a strange article. Many variables are involved but seem to be ignored. A couple come to mind right off the bat. Louisiana is a Public Land Survey System (PLSS) state (land organized by township and range) while neither Pennsylvania or West Virginia are (land organized by survey, like Texas). As Louisiana organizes drilling units by sections, there are some limitations to the size/shape of unit boundaries that impact horizontal well layouts. The size of a pad is proportional to the number of wells that a company plans to drill. Haynesville Shale well spacing started at 8 per section as that was the maximum allowed by Office of Conservation regulations. Now operators commonly drill 6 wells. I haven't looked at pad size or typical number of Marcellus Shale wells per drilling unit. Are existing wells per pad the right metric? Or is well head spacing? Haynesville well pads get used repeatedly as companies drill new wells. I'm working on a layout of existing horizontal laterals in a couple of sections for a client and I know the recently permitted wells, 2 with 1 spud, will be the fourth set of wells that include one or both of the sections. And there is room for additional wells after these 2. Of course landing zones have a great deal to do with pad size and number of allowable wells. I've been on a Lincoln Parish pad that had 14 well heads owing to the fact that there were 3 zones being produced in the Lower Cotton Valley play.
I'd also point to pad development in native topography as being a major contributing factor in the Marcellus having a higher pad density. Marcellus terrain tends to be more hilly (sometimes severely so) and as a result construction and development cost is much higher. SWPPP and employment of erosion controls are paramount in creating a proper drilling pad in western PA and WV. In the Haynesville, though there is some vertical relief in certain areas, for the most part elevation changes, grading and terracing are less of an issue. Access issues in the Marcellus are similarly plagued by dealing with rugged terrain - in the Haynesville wetlands sometimes present an issue but not nearly as much as landowner preference - of course in upland areas generally there is little difficulty in building a road in NW LA.
Translation: West Virginia and western Pennsylvania are mountainous while NW LA and E TX are flat. And yes, wet in places. :-) In Louisiana our parish roads often run along section lines making development easier/cheaper even if it does tend to tear up our substandard roads. In Pennsylvania, at mountain road intersections, you may need a fish eye mirror to see around the side of the mountain to check for oncoming traffic I worked on a Texas Eastern pipeline build in both states back in 1973 and drove a lot of those roads. In many of the small towns the only decent size flat space is the local school and football field. Those communities are big into high school football and always willing to chop the top off a mountain to make room for a field and stadium.
Well yeah - but the environmental and stormwater management regulations are tougher up there - and if you are going to spend the kind of money that it takes to "chop the top off a mountain" (or cut and fill into the side of one), one would do well make it worth the while to do so.
Also, the people are not very friendly and the food is bland.