The economics of oil and gas drilling in the US have changed since 2014, when oil prices entered their current protracted slump. Between 2011 and the end of that year, the price of oil was so high that almost any unconventional play was considered economical. Following the price crash, though, companies were forced to look more closely at costs. In a low oil price environment, they found the costs associated with many new wells were too high to justify.
Since late 2016, the price of oil has recovered somewhat, and the industry has returned smarter and leaner, drilling only in plays that have the strongest potential profitability. Two especially interesting locations for this activity are Oklahoma’s SCOOP and STACK. But what, exactly, makes the plays in Oklahoma more profitable than others?
Oklahoma’s Stacked Formations in High Demand
Currently, some of the most sought after oil drilling locations in the US are in Oklahoma. One factor is that these areas have highly developed oil and gas infrastructure, providing transportation cost savings. However, the main reason the plays in Oklahoma are so attractive has to do with their geology. According to Jason Carnovale, an oil and gas analyst with The Freedonia Group, “Not only do they possess strong individual well initial production (IP) rates and competitive drilling costs, these oil fields feature stacked formations.” Stacked formations allow operators to target strata at multiple depths for resources, enabling the exploitation of more fossil fuels from the same surface acreage.
The Meramec Leads the Way in the STACK
The STACK (Sooner Trend Anadarko Canadian Kingfisher) lies in the Anadarko Basin and is the most promising play in the state. The Woodford Shale is one of the best known and most drilled formations in this area, but the play also includes promising formations like the Chester, Hunton, Meramec, Osage, and Oswego, stacked on top of one another. The Meramec, in particular, is being heavily drilled as a result of some additional unique attributes. The formation features overpressured oil with low water content, creating high IP rates with lower costs associated with water disposal.
The SCOOP’s Springer Shale Shows Promise
The SCOOP (South Central Oklahoma Oil Province), like the STACK, lies in the Anadarko Basin, adjacent to and southeast of the popular STACK play. It emerged a year or two earlier than the STACK, and possesses some of the same formations, including the Hunton and Woodford. Additionally, the SCOOP is layered with the Caney, Hoxbar, and Springer formations. While the Woodford Shale is historically the most drilled strata, the recently identified Springer Shale is seeing increased attention following its identification by Continental Resources in 2014. The Springer has produced promising early results in terms of IP rates and estimate ultimate recovery.
Looking Forward in a Complex Industry
Although these plays have shown promise in recent years, other factors must be taken into account when determining the economic viability of a potential oil well. For instance, the level of infrastructure present in a potential drilling area and costs of oilfield services can determine the viability of a planned well. However, the most important factor is the prices that a company can expect to earn for the oil and gas it produces. Following years of innovations, the industry is better suited to take on lower prices now than it was in 2014, but there are limits to any oil and gas play.
For More Information
Despite the currently stagnant benchmark oil prices, drilling in Oklahoma, particularly in the STACK and the SCOOP, is expected to continue to grow. For more information on drilling in the state of Oklahoma and its plays, check out The Freedonia Group’s industry study Oklahoma Oil & Gas Drilling Outlook, which offers:
- historical data and forecasts
- drilling data for each of Oklahoma’s major basins
- analysis of the factors affecting drilling
- significant land acquisitions and infrastructure investment
About the Author
Daniel Debelius is an industry analyst at The Freedonia Group, where he writes industry studies focused on the US chemical market.