Aethon Energy loosened the choke on how it’s making mega-Bcf wells in its super-deep Haynesville wildcats north of Houston, including using offshore technology so that equipment “doesn’t fry.”

“They say if you can drill in the Haynesville, you can drill anywhere, and certainly our latest wells in Robertson County [Texas] look a lot like offshore gas [wells] because they're just monsters,” Andrea Wescott Passman, Aethon COO, said March 27 at Hart Energy’s DUG GAS+ Conference and Expo in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Aethon and Comstock Resources have 10 wells to date in the far western Haynesville stepout that’s up to 19,000 ft deep with temperatures as high as 425 F and pressure of up to 17,000 psi.

Together, the Texas wells have produced 70.4 Bcf in their combined 106 months online. Eight are in Robertson County; two, in adjacent Leon County.

Aethon hasn’t had a failed well yet in its pilot, all in Robertson. Three are online, six are completed but not yet online and three are permitted but not yet drilled.

“We've seen our [drilling] cycle times improved by over 40% within the last eight months,” Passman said. “So we're knocking down wells in the western Haynesville in about 30 days, which is incredible.”

Cactus Drilling is making hole for it. Halliburton is doing the frac jobs. The power supplier is VoltaGrid. “When you're putting a 30-megawatt plant out there, you can pump just about anything,” Passman said.

Far Western Haynesville
(Source: Hart Energy via Texas Railroad Commission data)

D&C costs

Rumor has it that the wells are costing between $30 million and $40 million, a conference attendee said in a Q&A session. Passman quipped, “That's a horrible rumor.”

She declined to provide a number but said “we tend to be lower than that.”

Aethon’s costs have fallen as wells are being drilled in 30 days now to some 15,000 ft with laterals of up to 1.5 miles, she said. In comparison, in the traditional Haynesville straddling the Texas-Louisiana border, Aethon’s fastest hole was recently made in 11 days, a company record, she said.

In East Texas and northwestern Louisiana, the Haynesville is typically found at between 10,000 ft and 13,000 ft.

No ‘fry’ chilling tech

Aethon is using mud-chilling technology and insulated drill pipe to overcome the depth’s temperature, which was recorded at more than 400 F in other operators’ turn-of-the-century verticals into the overlying Bossier Formation.

“We do run chillers,” Passman said in response to an attendee’s query. “That does make a huge difference in terms of what we've seen out there.”

Some of the high-temp technology is borrowed from tools used to overcome temperatures in deep wells offshore. “Offshore is really driving a lot of what we're seeing onshore now” in terms of the equipment that’s being deployed.

“I mean, it doesn't fry. We can run fiber. We can get that information and data now. And it's incredible,” she said.

Chilling and other tech are helping “when it comes to reducing temperatures within the Haynesville and really making sure that we can drive returns.

“And we've seen quite an increase in our returns from our projects by being able to apply some of those technologies on the order of magnitude of 10% to 20% improvements.”

Getting past Travis Peak

As for the Travis Peak Formation, wildcatters’ logs of the past have it wrecking many a well, sitting a few formations above the Cotton Valley, Bossier then Haynesville in Robertson County and pervasive in the traditional Haynesville play.

“Does Aethon have any difficulty drilling through it?” an attendee asked.

Passman said, “The Travis Peak is difficult, but I would say we don't have any difficulties given that we've worked really hard to develop our engineering design.”

Shelby Trough, in comparison

In East Texas, Aethon is a large operator in the Shelby Trough that centers at the intersection of Nacogdoches, Shelby and San Augustine counties along the Louisiana border.

An attendee asked how drilling and completing it compares to Robertson County. Passman said, “The risk is definitely lower [in the trough] because of just the depth that we're talking about and the consistency of the drilling.”

The Haynesville there is at about 13,000 ft and, at times, 15,000 ft.

Mike Winsor, CEO and COO of Paloma Natural Gas (PNG), which bought legacy Haynesville operator Goodrich Petroleum in December of 2021, said at the conference that PNG looked at the Shelby Trough, “particularly the faulted area.”

But “it's a more complex drilling environment,” he said.

“It's similar to the Natchitoches fault zone [in Louisiana], which we developed at Indigo [Natural Resources].” Winsor was COO at Indigo before it was sold to Southwestern Energy in September of 2021.

“It’s deeper, hotter, faulted. But [it makes] really good wells—higher EURs, up to 2.5 Bcf per 1,000 [lateral feet].”

Traditional Haynesville spacing

In the best locations of the traditional Haynesville play, operators are settling in at an average of six wells per section, Craig Jarchow, president and CEO of TG Natural Resources [TGNR], said.

But, he added, it depends on the price of natural gas. “When prices are higher, you can get more wells per section and put up with greater interference and achieve higher recoveries. Same thing for the Haynesville and the Bossier.”

Josh Viets, Chesapeake Energy COO, said the number of wells Chesapeake would put in a section depends on the rock’s thickness in each area, thus what type of well configuration is possible.

But the maximum number it’s D&C’ed in a section to date is an average of six.

Lateral length

Jarchow said TGNR prefers laterals of at least two miles and, where it has more contiguous sections, longer.

The ideal length becomes questionable after three miles, though. “There have been studies done—and I think the jury's still out—that show there are diminishing levels of return when it comes to lengthening laterals,” he said.

“Going out to infinity probably doesn't make sense, obviously. But do 10,000- and 15,000-foot laterals make sense? Yes, they do.”

Chesapeake’s Viets added that lateral lengths in the Haynesville are a different challenge than in the Marcellus, for example.

“And specifically, it's the temperature that creates problems. We drilled up to 15,000-foot laterals [in the Haynesville], so just under three miles, but we find that to be incredibly hard.”

In the Marcellus, though, “we're pushing over 20,000-foot horizontal wells. It’s an easier—not an easy, but an easier—drilling environment that allows that.”

Sympathy refracs, parent TILs

An attendee asked if Chesapeake might refrac some vintage Haynesville wells via drilling and completing offset child wells. Chesapeake’s parent wells date to the play’s earliest days in 2008.

Wells typically receive a sympathy frac — or "frac hit" —when operators frac nearby.

Viets said, “This is one of the things we've actually talked to investors a lot about recently, which is just the simple question of ‘Is there any harm in completing these wells and leaving them shut in for a period of time?’”

Often, “what we find is, when we complete the child well, … the parent wells do get restimulated.”

Although not a “refrac” formally, “we do see the benefit,” he said.

Chesapeake has suspended turning new wells inline (TIL) to sales while gas prices are sub-$2. Typically, a parent well is shut in while a child well is being completed or while neighbors are completing wells nearby.

“So one of the things that we do have to consider,” Viets said, “as we're deferring these new [TILs], is ‘What do I do with the parent wells as I'm allowing that child to sit?’

“And in most cases what that means is you not only have the child well shut in, but you're also going to leave the parent well shut in.”

Proppant intensity

Chesapeake piloted mega-fracs in 2017, pumping 5,000 pounds of sand per lateral foot in ROTC #1H in Louisiana’s Caddo Parish. The well came on with 40 MMcf/d. It and a sibling, ROTC #2H, made 19 Bcf in their first 19 months online.

Chesapeake dialed the volume back but since then “we've seen proppant intensity in the Haynesville increase by 45% in the last five years,” Viets said.

While more growth at that pace is uncertain, “I can assure you that we're continuing opportunities to improve our perforation architecture.”

That includes stages, water intensity, proppant density and other ingredients in the completion recipe.

“But generally we find that more proppant in a frac typically creates a better economical result.”