Unconventional resources (tight gas, shale gas, and tight liquids) have become a transformative energy source in North America largely through trial and error field experimentation. Low gas prices in North America and the expansion of unconventional developments internationally are driving a need for more rapid and lower cost assessments of potential. Operational efficiency will always be the critical success factor in unconventional resource development, but a holistic understanding of the system from plates to plays to pores can enhance that efficiency, achieved by integrating results from a variety of advanced laboratory analytical techniques with stratigraphic models that enable mapping of key play parameters. Geochemical analysis of core and cuttings is used to determine organic matter type, richness, and thermal maturity, from which hydrocarbon yields and fluid properties can be predicted. With unconventional resources, the hydrocarbon source rock is often also the reservoir. To understand storage capacity, the new generation of scanning electron microscopes enables nanometer-scale imaging of pores in the mineral matrix and organic matter, and generation of three dimensional volumes of the pore network that provide insight into hydrocarbon habitat and shale permeability. Finally, geomechanical experiments are performed to measure compressive strength and elastic properties, which are used to calibrate log-scale measurements to understand the variation of these rock properties across a play. Proppant embedment tests are used to understand the mechanical interaction between rocks, proppants and stimulation fluids at simulated downhole pressure conditions. Putting the results of these laboratory analyses and experiments into a play-scale stratigraphic framework provides an understanding of the geologic factors driving past successes and failures in a range of unconventional resource types. This has enabled assessment of basin potential in new plays before investment, and rapid evaluation of play-scale sweet spots.


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