FORT WORTH, Texas—Experimentation with new technology and techniques is the name of the game in the Permian’s Midland Basin, where some operators are using nanoparticles in the hydraulic fracturing process, improving type curves and discovering more oil and gas.

Approach Resources Inc. (NASDAQ: AREX) is among those seeing the benefits of technology in the play with its so-called “science wells” as it tweaks stage and cluster spacing along with concentrations of fluid, chemicals and particles in fluid. Changes implemented have led to improved production in the Wolfcamp, according to Approach Resources CEO J. Ross Craft, who gave several examples during Hart Energy’s recent DUG Permian Basin conference and exhibition.

“We picked three wells—one each in the A bench, B bench and C bench—and we adjusted stage spacing down to an average of 174 ft. We pumped roughly 2,000 lbs/ft,” Craft said. The technique also included use of nanoparticles. “The oil production on these three wells averaged 22% higher than the type curve. We’re pretty excited about what we’re seeing.”

Like the Delaware sub-basin, the Midland Basin boasts stacked-pay potential with drilling focused mainly on the Wolfcamp Formation. E&Ps have added horizontal drilling techniques to the Midland’s history of vertical wells in the Spraberry, giving rise to more production by large public oil and gas companies and smaller private E&Ps alike.

Technology and improved techniques, reservoir knowledge and a willingness to take risks remain key for producers.

Using Nanoparticles

Some in the oil and gas industry are using nanoparticles to control the viscosity and heat resistance of fracking fluids.

For example, Approach recently used silica nanoparticles during the fracking process with favorable results. Craft explained that it typically takes up to 60 days to reach maximum IP during flowback.

“Normally you don’t see any of the oil until you get 15 to 20% fluid recovery from the frack,” he said. But “we started cutting 5% recovery from this well. It still needs some more time, but I think the nanoparticles are going to play a big role in what we’re seeing. They’re expensive, but they definitely seem to be working at this point.”

Craft also explained how the company dropped stage spacing to 156 ft for the Pangea West well in Crockett County, Texas. Using 2,200 lbs/ft of sand and metal oxide nanoparticles with stimulation treatment throughout, the oil portion outperformed the type curve by 93%.

“We’re encouraged by what we see, but statistically speaking we all know that one well, two wells, three wells will not make a difference,” he said. “So, what we have to do in order to improve our type curve is to play with this process.”

Approach, a Permian pure-play company, has identified about 1,350 horizontal drilling locations across its 149,000 net acres in the basin with about 1 Bboe of gross unrisked resource potential.

Knowing Geology

A sound knowledge of geology is playing a role in Elevation Resources LLC’s success in the Barnett shale formation of the Central Basin Platform in Andrews County, Texas. A combination of risk-taking by financial backers, creative ideas from the staff and a partnership with mineral owner University Lands has enabled the company to take risks that private equity-backed firms normally can’t take, Elevation Resources CEO Steve Pruett told DUG Permian Basin attendees.

The company discovered a new play with its UL G 1-30 #1H well.

“Our concept was to drill north-south to propagate fracks in an east-west manner zipper style and use sand fracks, hybrid gels. It worked,” Pruett said, noting the company leaned on marginal results from other horizontal drillers in the area to help devise its plan of action.

Pruett highlighted the University 1-27 South Unit #3H well, pointing out pay.

The mineralogy of the resource play is mostly clay minerals with silica and carbonate, he said, noting it’s similar to the Meramec. The play is classified as “mixed siliciclastic mudstone/marlstone, with near equal proportions of coarse-grained, brittle components.”

Elevation believes the play extends north-south about 60 miles, though maturity may be an issue.

Considering the play is emerging, Pruett said there is still work to do in areas such as testing spacing, landing zones, frack formula and water recycling. The company also plans to move to pad drilling in 2019

“We need to transition from a science-based, data collection effort to a manufacturing effort,” Pruett said. This takes pad drilling and scale, which he said the company is started to transition into as it works to expand its ownership position.

With 2.1 million acres across the Permian, Elevation’s operations are focused in Andrews County, Texas, on the Central Basin Platform and in the southern Midland Basin.

Making Discoveries

Approach and Elevation aren’t the only ones having success with the drillbit. In April, PT Petroleum LLC said its Orange 6091C well in southwest Reagan County produced more than 100,000 barrels of oil and 45,000 MMcf of gas during its first 140 days.

“We believe that well will be transformational not only on the Trinity Project but for the entire southern Midland Basin,” PT Petroleum CEO Cory Richards said during the conference. “We believe it sets up a large-scale development opportunity.”

With an IP-90 of 898 boe/d (93% oil), the well is described by PT as a top-tier Wolfcamp C producer.

Historically, Southern Midland Basin activity has been in the upper part of the play with players such as Callon Petroleum Co. (NYSE: CPE), Pioneer Natural Resources Co. (NYSE: PXD), Laredo Petroleum Inc. (NYSE: LPI) and Parsley Energy Inc. (NYSE: PE). However, PT’s Orange 6091C well—which the company said landed in a similar stratigraphic position at Parsley’s Taylor well—extended the commercial limits of the Wolfcamp C “significantly south of the Big Lake fault.”

The well was drilled to a depth of 8,350 ft with a 9,596-ft completed lateral length, using 73 bbl/ft of fluid and 1,996 lb/ft of proppant. There were eight clusters per stage with an average stage length of 185 ft.

PT’s completion recipe also included use of nano-surfactant. Results of a side-by-side test of two Wolfcamp B shale wells—both 7,500-ft laterals with 800-ft horizontal spacing between wells—with the same completion design (with the exception for use of nano) showed the well with nano-surfactants produced 32% more oil.

The results gave PT confidence to continue use nano to enhance completions.

In all, the Trinity Block has plenty of stacked-pay potential with more than 16 billion barrels of oil in place. The 63,769-acre contiguous Midland Basin block spans Reagan, Upton and Crockett counties in Texas. The Plano, Texas-headquartered company currently has commercial production in the Wolfcamp A, B and C with more resources in the Lower Spraberry and Strawn.

“We’ve made tremendous progress with what we’ve done but we recognize that we’re really just getting started in a lot of respects,” Richards said.