​Trilogy Energy using Calfrac’s new frac fluid to improve Montney operations

In a downturn, new technologies can end up between a rock and hard place.

Producers may need better production at lower costs, but they are often too risk-averse to commit hard-won cash flow to uncertain results.

That Calfrac Well Services has found converts to its new CalVisc frac fluid system during the downturn is a testament to the demonstrable benefits of the technology and Calfrac’s ability to minimize the risks of adoption.

CalVisc trades on two advantages: in the right reservoirs, it improves production compared to established fluid systems, and it simplifies surface operations.

In November 2016, an RBC Capital Markets report comparing 15 Montney wells positioned a Trilogy Energy well using the CalVisc system at the top of the list as the highest producer in the first 90 days.

Dustin Domres, Calfrac’s lead on fracture optimization and division solutions, compared that well’s initial oil production to offsetting Montney wells in a five-kilometre radius in 2013-16 and found a 67 per cent improvement over the next best producing well and a 193 per cent improvement over the average based on the first month of production.

Trilogy, a Montney- and Duvernay-focused oil and gas producer, tested a number of different fluid systems in two of its core areas and has since decided to use CalVisc fluid system “on a go-forward basis.”

“Switching to Calfrac’s CalVisc fluid system has been an integral change to our completion design, which has led to superior production results compared to offset wells in the region,” Trilogy’s Corey Van Engelen, a drilling engineer, writes in an email.

Operational efficiencies at the surface also played into that decision.

“The fluid system has simplified the execution of our frac jobs, allowing us to increase pump rates with minimal impact on pumping pressures and decrease heating demand to effectively reduce costs,” Van Engelen says.

Calfrac’s in-house asset enhancement group of geoscientists, engineers and chemists helped Trilogy assess the suitability of CalVisc for specific jobs with detailed reservoir profiling and suggested optimal stimulation placements. This combination of mitigating upfront risks, delivering better results and simplifying operations has already proved itself in about 30 wells to date, by a conservative estimate.

“Everyone who has used this system so far continues to use it,” says Chad Leier, Calfrac’s vice-president of sales and marketing. By his estimate, the number of CalVisc jobs is closer to 60. With oil prices in the $50-plus range, he expects adoption rates to accelerate.

Slick to thick

The idea behind CalVisc was to create a slickwater frac system that could also deliver high-molecular-weight polymers. Conventional wisdom believed this type of frac would damage the rock. But tests conducted by Stim-Lab, a research and testing service operated as a subsidiary of Core Laboratories, showed otherwise, and that “it should clean up better than a guar-based system,” according to Tom McLoughlin, Calfrac’s manager of technical services and division solutions.

Explaining CalVisc, McLoughlin first sorts frac systems into two broad groups: slickwater and crosslinked. A slickwater system uses a lot of water, high flow rates and a very thin fluid to propagate fractures deep in the reservoir. But the proppant-suspension capacity of slickwater fluids is typically limited. So, in the last four or five years, producers have gone to a hybrid system that starts with slickwater and switches to crosslinked, which is a thicker, slower-moving fluid system loaded with proppant.

“The beauty of [CalVisc] is that it can operate as both,” McLoughlin says. “You can pump it at a certain concentration, and it’s essentially a slickwater system. As you feel the need for higher proppant concentrations, you can increase the loading. For the fellow in the van, it’s just a matter of turning a dial, whereas before you would have to monitor pHs and temperatures and time and all this other stuff.”

As the CalVisc system becomes thicker, it allows more sand to be carried into the wellbore.

“As you get away from the wellbore, your momentum and velocity slows down. This system has the unique property of getting thicker as it slows down, so essentially it starts to behave as a thicker system as you get farther away from the wellbore,” McLoughlin says.

The improvements in production results and reduced fracking time on site are rounded out with associated health, safety and environmental benefits.

“You’re saving water, time and logistics, less chemicals, fewer trucks on location and fluid losses,” says Gord Milgate, director of operations in Calfrac’s Canadian division. “But from an operations perspective, the biggest benefit is reduced complexity. A lot of systems right now are hybrid systems, where you’re running slickwater and the guar—depending on the treatment. [CalVisc] is one system.”

Next steps

CalVisc’s biggest limitation is that it requires a potable-water source because of its total dissolved solids limit. Leier says Calfrac is working on making it compatible with produced-water to further improve its environmental profile.

Otherwise, CalVisc can be deployed in oil wells, gas wells, vertical, horizontal, plug and perf, ball drop, annular fracturing, zipper frac, on and on. “It all works,” Leier says.

Calfrac’s technical guidance in deploying CalVisc is part of the value proposition. About four years ago, Calfrac decided to bump up its reputation for service quality into a competitive advantage. So it created the asset enhancement group.

“The mandate of our asset management team is to go deeper,” Leier says. “Deeper in the relationship with our customers; engage earlier in the conversation and understand our customers needs better and, therefore, formulate a solution that makes more sense or brings a more productive resolution.”

Some customers lean heavily on Calfrac’s expertise and collaboratively decide where to place laterals, how long laterals will be and which horizons to ultimately target.

“That’s the most beneficial conversation because, yes, we can go in and frac at the back end, but that’s just one solution at one point in time,” Leier says. “If we can be involved throughout the life cycle, we can guarantee you that the final outcome, which is production, will be more meaningful and better.”

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