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SwRI program illuminates Eagle Ford geology for oil and gas producers

For immediate release

San Antonio — March 21, 2013 — Before risking millions to drill a new well, oil company geologists wish they could peer through thousands of feet of solid rock to better visualize, evaluate and understand what lies below.

Through a program conceived and led by Southwest Research Institute's (SwRI) Geosciences and Engineering Division, geologists are studying the deeply buried formation known as the Eagle Ford Shale by visiting places where it is exposed at the ground surface.

"The Eagle Ford Formation is a highly productive oil and gas reservoir. In the industry, it's one that's known as 'unconventional,'" said project leader Dr. David Ferrill. "Being 'unconventional,' there is not much experience on which to base decisions about drilling and fracturing. Especially important is that variability in its mineralogy and natural fracturing influences the ability to hydraulically fracture the reservoir, therefore making it a challenge to develop an optimal drilling strategy," he said.

"What influences do pre-existing 'natural' fractures have on hydraulic fracturing and well performance? What types of fractures are produced, how far do they extend, and what volume of rock does a well produce from? The answers to these and other questions are crucial to that strategy," he said.

To help answer such questions and understand the fundamental relationships among stratigraphy, natural fracturing and stress conditions, SwRI in 2011 organized a joint industry project for producers in the Eagle Ford and associated formations.

Midway through its first two-year phase, the Eagle Ford Joint Industry Project includes seven member oil companies. It offers geologists an unprecedented chance to view outcrops of the Eagle Ford and associated formations at locations in West and South Central Texas.

From studies of those outcrops, investigators analyze the stratigraphy and mechanical behavior of the strata and natural deformation including faulting, folding and fracturing, as well as past and present stress conditions. The analyses help producers understand the pre-existing natural deformation, as well as the important role that mechanical stratigraphy plays in controlling distribution and style of faulting, fracturing and related deformation.

In addition to outcrop-based analyses, the project includes geomechanical simulation of natural and induced fracturing to better understand the behavior of the Eagle Ford and other mechanically layered or heterogeneous self-sourced (unconventional) reservoirs.

"These results are transforming how companies understand and plan development in the Eagle Ford," said Ferrill.

Membership fee for the consortium is $75,000 for each two-year phase. For more information or to join the study, contact Ferrill at (210) 522-6082 or dferrill@swri.org, or Dr. Alan Morris at (210) 522-6743.

For more information, contact Deb Schmid, (210) 522-2254, Communications Department, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, TX 78228-0510.