WPX Energy's (WPX) successful Niobrara shale discovery in western Colorado has the potential to significantly increase the company's natural gas reserves and daily production in ensuing years.
The discovery well produced an initial high of 16 million cubic feet per day at a flowing pressure of 7,300 pounds per square inch.
The well has since been choked back substantially to optimize reservoir performance and ensure maximum resource recovery. Over the past 30 days, it produced at an average rate of 12 million cubic feet per day.
WPX has the lease rights to approximately 180,000 net acres of the Niobrara/Mancos shale play that underlies the company's expansive leasehold position in the Piceance Basin.
Substantial gathering and processing infrastructure is in place to accommodate additional gas volumes from the area, as is take-away capacity from the basin. Gas produced from the Niobrara and Mancos shales can be processed without modification to existing gas treatment facilities.
WPX has drilled more than 4,000 wells in the Piceance Basin, mostly in the tight sandstones of the Williams Fork formation.
"We have a large-scale position in the Piceance, where we are the lowest-cost, most efficient producer in the basin. We know the Piceance is a world-class asset. Now the results of our Niobrara well are showing that our acreage has even greater reserves potential," said Ralph A. Hill, president and chief executive officer.
"This exploratory work in the Niobrara and Mancos shales of the Piceance was a logical follow-on to our previous Mancos shale discoveries in the San Juan Basin.
"In the latter half of 2010, we drilled two horizontal discovery wells there that produced at high rates from the same reservoir that we're delineating in the Piceance. The San Juan results already added 1.3 trillion cubic feet of proved, probable and possible reserves to WPX," Hill added.
"Based on the early indications from this Piceance discovery, we're talking about the potential to ultimately more than double our current 18 trillion cubic feet equivalent of 3P reserves," Hill said.
The Niobrara and Mancos shales are generally located at depths of 10,000 to 13,000 feet. The Williams Fork is a shallower formation, generally located at depths of 6,000 to 9,000 feet. In the Piceance Basin, WPX holds an average working interest of 66 percent in the Niobrara and Mancos shales.
WPX plans to drill at least two more horizontal Niobrara wells in the Piceance Basin this year, pending permits, starting within a six-mile radius of the first well. This additional work will help WPX evaluate how productive the formation is across the basin. Other operators also are delineating the extent of the resource on the eastern and western margins of the basin.
WPX's first Niobrara horizontal well is located on the company's existing Piceance Valley acreage in Garfield County. It was drilled to a total vertical depth of 10,200 feet with a 4,600-foot horizontal lateral.
Drilling operations commenced in August 2012 during which the company successfully recovered 535 feet of continuous core. Completion operations, including 17 frac stages, were completed in December.
WPX previously drilled a vertical Niobrara test well in late 2011 that yielded the impetus for drilling the first horizontal well to gain additional data about the productivity of the formation.
Steven G. Natali, senior vice president of exploration for WPX, commented, "As we study what our geoscience and operations teams have achieved in the Niobrara and Mancos shales, we're seeing hydrocarbon saturation across tremendous thickness in a highly over-pressurized environment. These shales are located directly underneath our current Williams Fork production in the Piceance.
"Advances in horizontal drilling and the way that our completions engineers apply multi-stage fracture technology means that much of this gas can eventually be brought to the surface at an economic rate," Natali added.