Oil companies are applying new hydraulic fracturing techniques to early Bakken wells, a process industry leaders say has the potential to recover more oil without increasing the footprint on the land.
Operators are targeting wells drilled between 2008 and 2010, the early years of Bakken development before fracking technology advanced to where it is today.
Companies are refracturing the older wells using today’s technology and getting promising results, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, who recently analyzed the wells.
“On average, they’re getting better performance from the wells,” Kringstad said.
Fracking — or pumping a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep underground — and horizontal drilling techniques allowed operators to recover oil from the Bakken.
But the industry believes it’s only recovering about 5 to 15 percent of the oil available, Kringstad said.
More than 140 wells in the Bakken have been refractured, and most saw an increase in oil production from 200,000 to 250,000 barrels, according to Kringstad’s analysis.
The newly fracked wells are injected with larger volumes of fluid and sand and the fracture treatments are applied to smaller segments of the well, he said.
North Dakota legislators also are interested in the potential for refracturing existing oil wells and are planning a study during the interim focused on the fiscal impact to the state.
Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, said recovering more oil would mean more tax revenue and more jobs.
Armstrong, one of the legislators who introduced the study, said legislators plan to invite experts to learn more about refracturing and discuss if there are economic incentives the state could consider.
“We are only getting a small, small amount of the total potential reserve down there,” Armstrong said. “Everybody would benefit if we could figure out a way to recover more.”
Monte Besler, a Williston oilfield consultant known as the FRACN8R, said not all wells will be good candidates for refracturing. But it can pay off in wells that were completed with technology now considered outdated, he said.
Kringstad said companies will typically want to see at least an additional 200,000 barrels of oil to justify the investment.
Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said refracturing oil wells can recover more oil without expanding the footprint of the Bakken.
“There’s no additional environmental impacts and there’s generally already a pipeline there,” Helms said.
Kringstad also is studying the impact refracturing could have on the pipeline industry and working to provide oil and natural gas pipeline operators data to help them plan.