Not All Wireline Companies Are the Same
Some wireline companies offer economic advantages to the operator of an oil and gas well. But to see those cost advantages, one must examine the bigger picture and consider the value of the experience of the crew.
In pumpdown stage work, jobs are priced by the frac stage. When well operators are weighing bids from various wireline contractors, that’s the main basis of comparison: price-per-stage. Some operators look no further than that. But when it comes to an operator’s bottom line, there’s more to the economics than just the price-per-stage. Because if they have the right wireline company working for them, they can achieve great savings just by that crew’s efficiency.
For instance, maybe one wireline company has the ability to shoot more guns per frac stage. More guns fired means fewer trips downhole. Fewer trips downhole means that the pressure pumping crews, who are also at work on those same wellsites, spend less time waiting on wireline. That saves everyone money.
On a frac job, the wireline crew is just one crew out of many.
A hydraulic fracturing operation costs an operator millions. On a frac job, the crew of the wireline company is just one crew out of many who are engaged in the proceedings. Wireline does the plugging and perforating that precedes the actual fracturing, which is done by pressure pumping crews using vast amounts of water, sand, and chemicals at extraordinary pressures.
Every wellbore is lined with steel pipe, known as casing. To “perforate” the well, a crew positions a perforating gun in the part of the wellbore that is to be hydraulically fractured. The gun is fired, remotely, and the explosive charges in the gun blast holes in the steel casing. These explosions also create holes or cracks in the surrounding rock at each blast point.
These holes become the points of attack for the fracturing process that follows.
It’s a huge job.
Imagine the Empire State Building filled entirely with water. That’s how much water can be pumped down just one well, in a modern-day frac’ing operation. Or picture 100 railroad cars, each filled with sand. That’s how much sand—or even more than that—goes down some wells.
The water and sand—and frac fluids—that go downhole are pumped at extreme pressures. This procedure serves to fracture the oil-bearing (or gas-bearing) rock far below the surface. Later, once the pressure has been taken off the well, the water flows back up to the wellhead and out of the well. But the sand that was pumped downhole remains in the fissures of the rock, and this impedes the rock from collapsing the fissures. They remain “propped” open by the sand, which some refer to as the “proppant.”
Thus, pathways are made for oil and gas to flow out of the rock and into the wellbore—and from there up to the surface, whether on their own formation pressure or “artificially” lifted by a pumping action.
The place of wireline companies in this “well completion” process is at the front end—a wireline crew perforates the rock formations to prepare them for the pressure pumping (frac’ing) activity.
Extreme pressures produce pathways.
Matt Hargett, director of operations for Integrity Wireline, explains wireline’s critical role.
“Our service on a frac job is probably one of the least expensive services on the location,” Hargett says. “The fracs themselves cost the operators a ton of money. So anytime they can lessen the number of fracs that they must run, they save money. If they can have us double our gun strings and pay $10,000 or more on a run, but [by doing so] eliminate one frac stage [of a multi-stage frac job], that’s $180,000 saved. That’s a no-brainer. So, in cases like that, they’re going to shoot as many guns as possible. Even if they were to do just a little-bit-longer-than-normal frac—they probably realize 40 to 50 percent savings.
“On top of that, people are going, more often than not, to what is called ‘zipper fracs.’ where there’s a two-well pad or a three-well pad or—like we just recently finished for XTO—a four-well pad,” Hargett said. “And on one of those pads, while we’re going downhole perforating [ahead of a] frac stage, the frac crews are frac’ing a stage that we [Integrity] already finished perforating.”
Hargett’s point is that on a multi-well pad, there is always a wellbore available to occupy one of the crews on site. There’s less idle time for any crew.
He adds: “So when they [frac crew/pressure pumpers] come off of one wellbore, we go [back to] that well, where we plug-and-perf another stage. And meanwhile they’re frac’ing the one that we just came out of. It just never stops. They’re continually frac’ing, and we’re continually making runs.”
The crew’s experience makes a difference.
Kelly Connally, CEO of Integrity Wireline, said that another reason why Integrity Wireline is so well equipped is because they have done so much work with exploration and production companies (E&Ps) who are at the forefront of the shale revolution. He mentioned that Integrity currently is working with XTO and EOG, as well as a handful of other top companies. EOG in 2019 has turned in two of the best quarterly performances in the Permian Basin. Meanwhile, XTO, already the most active operator in the Permian, is poised to double its rig count in that region.
“These companies only work with the best,” Connally said. “Our crews have impressed them and continue to impress them.”
*Header photo by Integrity engineer Robert Moon.