[Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the January issue of E&P Plus. Subscribe to the digital publication here.]

The evolution of frac plugs has been a key enabler in the economic development of unconventional reservoirs in the U.S., according to John Ray, vice president of completions with Innovex Downhole Solutions.

“The industry has experimented with a variety of different completion technologies over the last 10 years, but we are firm believers that frac plugs are the simplest, most robust way to complete horizontal wells.”

A fairly new company, Innovex Downhole Solutions was formed in 2016 from the union of Team Oil Tools, Antelope Oil Tool and Isolation Technologies. And the acquisition of Quick Connectors Inc. and Enerserv in 2019 created Innovex’s well production segment centered on artificial lift technologies and related services.

Recently, Innovex entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Rubicon Oilfield International, which aims to create an independent well-centric products and technology company. The transaction is expected to close in early 2021.

In an exclusive interview with E&P Plus, Ray shared case study details on the company’s latest plug technology as well as his insights on how frac plugs are evolving in the industry.

E&P Plus: Your company offers plugs for several different functions. How are these plugs different from other options available?

Ray: Innovex has developed proprietary alloys for the dissolvable plug market for over five years. We have an outside-the-box design to differentiate ourselves from conventional plugs on the market. Our goal has to been to take the pros of conventional composite plugs and eliminate the cons of dissolvable plugs to create a truly unique solution for plug-and-perf operations. Our design allows us to provide one of the shortest and lightest plugs on the market. Along with plug design, our dissolvable material knowledge allows us to provide a reliable and predictable dissolution rate. Most importantly, our goal has always been to create a more efficient cleanout operation—not eliminate cleanouts altogether—so our dissolvable plug must be economical.

E&P Plus: Can you share any recent case study details?

Ray: A Delaware Basin operator tasked Innovex with providing a reliable, dissolvable frac plug for a 49-stage, 2-mile-long horizontal completion project. Job preparation considerations included the lateral length and limited annular velocity in the 4.5 inches by 7 inches completion design during the post-frac coil tubing cleanout. The 4.5-inch Bubba Plug was chosen and installed without issue. The cleanout was completed in 29 hours (run-in-hole to bumped up at surface) and set a new record for this customer.

General info and details table

E&P Plus: Are you currently working on developing any new plugs, completions technologies or enhancements?

Ray: Innovex is constantly working on new plug designs to make improvements and lower the cost. We have dedicated a lot of resources and time to providing the best material on the market. As the dissolvable material technology improves, we will be looking for ways to incorporate dissolvable technology into different applications. We feel that there are possibilities for dissolvable material in drilling, intervention and production phases of oil and gas.

Innovex recently launched the Bubba Plug, which is our shortest and lightest dissolvable plug to date. In addition, it utilizes the fastest dissolving material that Innovex has in its suite of material options. We ran over 5,000 Bubba Plugs in 2020 and hope to rapidly increase our market share.

E&P Plus: How do you think frac plugs have evolved over the last year or two? Why?

Ray: Plugs have gone through a rapid evolution in the last two years. Most providers have developed a shorter plug design to eliminate material and debris that is left downhole. In addition, plugs have moved to a fully composite design, eliminating any cast iron or metallic materials.

The smaller plugs have reduced the plug cost making plug-and-perf operations economical and the preferred method of completing unconventional reservoirs.

E&P Plus: What’s your future outlook for this space?

Ray: We feel that dissolvable plugs will soon replace composite frac plugs. As the incremental cost of a dissolvable versus a composite plug has decreased, this has allowed for dissolvable plugs to be used more broadly. Lateral lengths continue to increase making dissolvable plugs more appealing to simplify drill-out operations.

E&P Plus: What’s next for Innovex?

Ray: Innovex recently announced an agreement to acquire Rubicon Oilfield International, which we expect to close in first-quarter 2021. This acquisition will create a leading independent supplier of high-value, well-centric products, with Innovex’s U.S. strength complementing Rubicon’s strength outside the U.S. As a combined business, we will be positioned to offer our customers even greater value and our employees the potential to develop their careers within a larger organization. The added scale and financial strength, which comes from a fundamentally larger company, will also provide greater stability as we move forward.

Our goal is to take what Innovex has done well in the U.S. over the past four years and bring the same innovation and solutions to the international market. Over the last several years, Innovex has efficiently served our customers enabling us to thrive in spite of recent market conditions. This has put us in a position to complete this transaction and not only grow Innovex’s product lines but also extend our reach into broader international markets.