WATFORD CITY, N.D.—While increasing oil prices and fewer regulations have led to a resurgence in the Bakken, improved technologies since the last boom could lead to more production and the ability to move product to market even faster this time around.

Akash Sharma, a petroleum engineer analyst with Drillinginfo, said during The Bakken Conference & Expo technology improvements such as data analytics make deciding on where to drill and how to drill much more efficient.

“Utilizing the vast quantities of data available, companies can better understand what works and does not work in the Bakken. This would include identifying core areas in the Basin as well as identifying the best drilling and completion strategies adopted by their peers,” Sharma said. “Insights like these help companies move up the learning curve much faster and help reduce entry and developmental risk for an operator,” he continued.

Advancements in technology have not only improved data analytics but also helped usher in early leak detection and the ability to drill wells faster to get the oil out quicker.

Jason Swaren, vice president of operations for Oasis Petroleum, said improved data analysis in the Bakken has been a huge boost for his company. Well information that once took lease operators hours or days to gather as recently as 2015 and 2016 can now be distributed in real time thanks in large part to increased bandwidth in the area.

Cell towers have made it possible to transfer readings and information from the site to a central locations for real-time data analytics.

“So if the well is not producing at optimal conditions the technicians can make adjustments remotely,” Swaren said during the keynote presentation of the conference. “They don’t have to go to the well site and put into optimal positions or they can dispatch a lease operator to the well site.

“If the well is down we can see that immediately and we can prioritize those wells for the lease operators to go out there first. And then the third bucket is do nothing. We find that the do nothing is about 90% of our wells.”

Being able to quickly eliminate the properly working wells allow Oasis and its analysts to focus on the 10% of the wells that need attention.

“The result of that just in the first quarter alone is about a 25% reduction in artificial lift failures because we are making those adjustments real-time,” Swaren said. “And we have seen about a 25% reduction in downtime. And then there are a lot less driving miles being done out there.”

There have also been technology gains in the tools used to drill wells, particularly bit technology. The drill advances have reduced the average days on location for a rig in the Bakken from 21 days in 2013 to 13 in 2018.

That means the asset is developed much faster and therefore brought to market much sooner.

“Development in drilling systems through material, designs and implementation improvements have helped in reducing NPT and enhancing efficiencies in this phase of oilfield development,” Sharma said. “Better understanding of basin geology also leads to better bit and rotary steerable systems design which further improves drilling efficiencies.”

Many of the technologies have been improved over time and have been beneficial in growing basins such as the Permian. And now those advances have made it to the Bakken where plays stand to benefit greatly.

One example is the improvement in frac design across the basin. Sharma said because of what has been learned in other basins, completion designs in the Bakken have changed significantly.

"With much higher proppant intensity in longer wells and more focus on Slickwater frac design as compared to crosslinker,” Sharma said. “These enhancements have allowed the Bakken type curve to show signs of incremental improvement after a duration of stagnated growth.”

These advancements in drilling and well technologies have allowed operators to reduce the amount of days and expense on a well sight drastically over the last few years, Sharma said.

“Whether it’s the ability to use specially designed bits and systems to complete the job without having the need to change the bit or whether it’s creating products that are much more in line with the kind of methodologies that these bits are going to face,” Sharma said. “Either way both of these aspects have definitely contributed to how drilling efficiencies have increased in the area. What you have also is the percentage of horizontal wells being fairly consistent and gradually improve year after year.”

The expanding use of drones has been huge in getting projects off the ground. The drones are used primarily to survey potential land. What use to take a survey crew weeks to check out now is taking only hours with the use of a drone flying over.

“The second thing is a survey crew would take a shot every 50 foot,” Swaren said. “Now we are taking a shot every one inch.

“So not only are we much more efficient but the quality of data that we are getting is just much better.”

Terrance Harris can be reached at tharris@hartenergy.com.