Production at one of the most prolific shale plays in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the last five years, but information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) points out an area that still could use a boost. Operators continue to grapple with high decline rates in the Eagle Ford. More often than not, companies are drilling more and are turning to sand to help hold open fractures in the new wells in hopes of maintaining oil flow. And the efforts to prolong production have led to a boon for sand providers like U.S. Silica Holdings, which expects its demand to triple over the next five years mainly because more sand is being used during the fracking process. According to a Reuters report, half of the 8.2 million tons of sand sold last year by U.S. Silica—which anticipates its sand volumes will grow by up to 35% this year— went to energy companies. As sand companies get a lift in business, shale operators are looking for ways to keep production figures up. “While initial production rates have steadily increased since 2009, first-year decline rates in the Eagle Ford have fluctuated between 60% and 70%,” the EIA said in a report released this week. “Most notably, decline rates over the second year of production have steadily increased from 30% for wells drilled in 2009 to nearly 50% for wells drilled in 2011 and 2012.” To help combat the declines, producers have ramped up the use of proppants to keep fractures open, leading to higher initial production rates, according to the EIA. However, steeper production drops have usually followed for the older wells. The EIA noted that the natural declines have been offset through new recovery techniques such as more hydraulic fracturing stages combined with horizontal drilling, efforts that make future production increases possible. Other techniques, involving perforation cluster spacing and engineered completions, also have shown favorable results. Schlumberger highlighted a case study online that showed how engineered completions improved perforation efficiency in the Eagle Ford by 28%. In this instance, production was coming from only 64% of the perforation clusters. That percentage increased to 82% after openhole logging and cased-hole logging were used to optimize positioning of the frack stages and perforation clusters. The good news is that overall, more drilling coupled with better drilling efficiency have been enough to keep production high. However, only time will tell how long this will last, given budget constraints and the struggle for some to maintain positive cash flow. Service companies and operators as well as big data and analytics firms, among others, must continue work toward pinpointing exactly what is behind these steep declines and find more solutions. Uncovering ways to improve fracture effectiveness, continue conductivity without losing surface area and enhance reservoir quality will be paramount to pushing the U.S. shale success story forward. But the fact that each shale play is different, with geological variations within each play, will make the task even more challenging. Contact the author, Velda Addison, at