How technology unlocked the Permian Basin’s potential

Nicole Champenoy recalls assessing the Permian Basin’s potential about a decade ago, when the oil and gas industry was facing a years-long challenge.

Vast amounts of oil remained beneath the surface, but figuring out a way to release it was proving difficult. The oil was trapped in dense rock, and technologies at the time weren’t sophisticated enough to recover it economically.

“It was a bit of a tease,” said Champenoy, shale and tight asset class director at Chevron. “We knew the oil was there, but the industry didn’t know how to get it out of the ground.”

The use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have helped the Permian Basin become one of the world’s leading oil production sites.

Innovation to the rescue

Advancements in technology helped teams like Champenoy’s overcome obstacles and transform production in the Permian Basin. These innovative techniques included:

Horizontal drilling, which involves drilling down through thousands of feet of ground, before switching directions and moving sideways to reach the targeted oil reserve.

Hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting fluids into the underground rock at pressures high enough to create fractures. This opens pathways in the rock that allow oil and gas to flow.

The combination of these techniques turned the Permian Basin, which had been declining for more than 30 years, into one of the world’s most prolific sites.

“The Permian Basin has become the gift that just keeps giving,” said Champenoy.

The modern way

Today, Chevron embraces a factory approach to drilling wells in the Permian Basin. This approach has proven to be consistent, repeatable and fast.

Chevron drills a series of horizontal wells in a single well pad and completes them using hydraulic fracturing. This model helps prioritize the most promising opportunities, lowers drilling costs, cuts the time from start of drilling to first production and increases the number of wells that each rig drills. It has tripled the pace of Chevron’s drilling program.

On the safety front, Chevron aims to prevent fatalities, serious injuries and illnesses across its operations.

Looking ahead

Chevron set a quarterly record during last year’s fourth quarter, with the Permian Basin reaching 867,000 barrels of oil-equivalent per day.

The company now seeks to better understand how to improve secondary recovery techniques, like gas and chemical injection, which can produce even more oil and gas after the initial recovery process.

“Increasing production beyond what we are doing today is a complex problem, and it is very rewarding to be part of this journey,” Champenoy said.

The idea of continuing to innovate to grow production in the Permian Basin excites Champenoy.

“We’ve come so far in the past decade, but we have so much ahead of us,” she said. “It’s an awesome time to be working in shale.”

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