The Paradox of Increasing Initial Oil Production but Faster Decline Rates in Fracking the Bakken Shale: Implications for Long Term Productivity of Tight Oil Plays

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. The published version of this Preprint is available: This is version 2 of this Preprint.


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Frank Male , Ian J Duncan


In the US, tight oil is the largest source of liquid hydrocarbons and has driven the country to become the world’s largest oil producer. Eventually many countries will likely be producing very large quantiles of tight oil. However, how robust is tight oil production? The answer to this question will have an impact on the future geographic spread of oil production and will have geopolitical implications. The estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) and rate of production decline are key metrics in the evaluation of the future productivity of tight oil wells. To understand the nature of production decline of tight oil wells we chose the Bakken Shale because availability of the high quality, publicly available data. Traditionally, well operators have estimated the EUR for each well from the initial production (IP), using empirical type curves to extrapolate to the ultimate production.

From 2015 to 2018 the IP of the average Bakken well increased by approximately 50%. This increase resulted in claims by operators and in the academic literature that more intense hydraulic fracturing was increasing the average EUR of the Bakken play. At the same time, other observers claimed the wells declined much more rapidly than previous wells. This faster decline provided evidence for lower ultimate production from newer wells. The aim of this study was to understand the origin of these seemingly conflicting observations. A physics-based, scaling model was used to predict production from horizontal multi-stage fractured wells. The scaling model was applied to a very large data set of 13,444 wells. The EUR and terminal decline rate (TDR) were estimated from fitting production to our scaling model.

Our study found that implementation of more, intensive fracturing resulted in higher IP and steeper terminal-production declines. Recently published results estimating the total production from the Bakken that include increased lifetime production commensurate with observed increases in average IP, significantly overestimate the long-term production potential of tight oil, both in the US and globally.



Oil, Gas, and Energy, Petroleum Engineering


Energy forecasting, Unconventional oil


Published: 2020-10-21 12:00

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data Availability (Reason not available):
Data is proprietary

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