Energy Blog

Unconventional techniques in conventional plays, North America

The horizontal drilling and completion techniques refined for development of unconventional shale resources are increasingly being applied to conventional, low-productivity plays in North America. In a prior briefing, “Unconventional techniques revitalize mature plays”, IHS Energy Strategic Horizons profiled three examples from the United States and Canada of fields which had been producing since the 1950s. In our North American examples, the introduction of horizontal wells increased production by a minimum of 60% and up to over 200%. IHS Energy identified approximately 50 mature, conventional plays in the United States and 25 in Canada where unconventional techniques are being tried.

We outlined the impressive gains in production from three plays: the Granite Wash in Texas and Oklahoma, the New Mexico Delaware Sandstone, and the Canadian Cardium. Below are examples of two with some additional study background.

The geologic diversity of the North American plays indicates that there is broad applicability. And because these are being applied in mature areas with existing infrastructure, we anticipate that uptake in similarly mature plays outside North America to be faster than unconventionals. Indeed some experimentation is being done with mixed results. One field in France was revitalized after being abandoned for a number of years. The operator used horizontal wells without fracture stimulation and increased recovery in the field by 10%. Another field in Tunisia, however, is a cautionary tale. After drilling several horizontal wells with hydraulic fracture completions, the practice was abandoned. The hydraulic fractures intersected natural fractures that brought water up from the water leg, increasing water-handling costs.

We anticipate that the industry will continue to conduct additional testing and development outside North America to increase production in mature plays and old fields.

Learn more about IHS Energy Strategic Horizons and IHS Upstream Industry Future.


• The US Granite Wash in Texas and Oklahoma has been in production since 1956. Activity has grown steadily since 2007 when the use of horizontal wells with hydraulic fracturing started. Production has increased fivefold.


• The Canadian Cardium play in the Alberta Deep Basin has also been in production since the 1950s. Horizontal drilling has been increasing since 2010, with dramatic results. Production increased from 33,000 bd in mid-2009 to nearly 114,000 in 2013, adding over 82 million barrels of oil in just 4.5 years.

• In the United States, over 300 plays were tested with at least one horizontal well in 2010 –2013. IHS Energy has identified 51 mature conventional plays in the United States where at least 10 horizontal wells have been drilled and have average IP rates greater than or equal to 100 bd. Some, like the Granite Wash, are established, but some are just emerging.

• In Canada, over 90 plays were tested with at least one horizontal well in 2010 – 2013. IHS Energy has identified 26 mature conventional plays where at least 10 horizontal wells have been drilled and have

About The Author

Leta Smith, Director, IHS Energy Insight, is an authority on upstream supply, focusing on current trends and challenges in exploration and production (E&P) and the implications of those trends for the future supply outlook. She directs and undertakes research for the IHS CERA E&P Trends Forum and tracks oil productive capacity for the United States and Latin America. Among other current research efforts Dr. Smith was the principal author of the IHS CERA analysis of shale gas potential outside of North America and a coauthor of an evaluation of liquids production capacity to 2030.

Dr. Smith has over 15 years of experience in the petroleum industry, with expertise ranging from the reservoir to the global level. Before joining IHS CERA Dr. Smith was a Managing Consultant with IHS Inc., where she led studies and advised clients on reserves and production analysis, resource valuation, market studies, and strategic planning activities. Her professional experience also includes research in enhanced oil recovery and gas exploration technology development with the Institute for Energy Research and Amoco Production Research. Dr. Smith is a licensed Professional Geologist in the states of Texas and Wyoming. She holds a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University and a PhD from the University of Wyoming.