Whiting’s Bakken, Three Forks progress marks strong start to 2017

By Luke Geiver | May 02, 2017

Whiting Petroleum Corp. has started 2017 on a positive trend. The Denver-based operator that is focused on the Williston Basin of North Dakota and the Niobrara of Colorado reported production levels were at the high end of its guidance for the first quarter while its operating costs were below initial estimates. For the first quarter, Whiting produced roughly 117,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, with more than 90 percent coming from the Bakken and Three Forks formations of the Williston Basin.

In the middle of its Bakken acreage position, Whiting was able to prove-out a completion and production profile for a well that has the company believing a 1.5-million-barrel type curve is possible for many wells in the area. “The improvements we’ve made in cost and well productivity allow us to operate effectively and efficiently at a $40 to $50 oil price,” said Jim Volker, president of Whiting.

With more than 500,000 net acres, Whiting has roughly 99 percent of its Bakken position held by production. At the end of 2016, the operator reported 5,334 potential gross drilling locations. The company also believes both the Bakken and Three Forks formations can yield the same levels of production. Whiting’s typical multi-well pad design involves drilling the same number of Three Forks and Bakken wells, according to Mark Williams, senior vice president of exploration and production. The majority of its 1.5 million barrel EUR wells in McKenzie County targeted the Three Forks, he said.

With five rigs spread throughout the Williston Basin, the company believes all its acreage can yield similar returns. Starting last year, the company said it has gone exclusively to advanced completions—which include 9 to 10 million pounds of sand and roughly 40-frack stages per well. This year Whiting will be trying some higher proppant loading. Roughly one-fifth of all wells completed this year will use up to 15 million pounds of sand. Because the company has an extensive in-house rock and core lab in Denver, the completion team customizes each job for each specific well.

In the Redtail area of Whiting’s Niobrara operations, the company is running one drilling rig and it recently added a frack crew. Whiting has been testing various proppant loading volumes in the play. According to the company, if it goes from 30 stages with 4.5 million pounds of sand to 50 stages with 5 million pounds of sand, well costs will rise by $300,000. But, well costs will rise by $500,000 if the number of stages stays constant but sand volumes are increased to 8 million pounds.

Sand costs, according to the company, reflects only 4 percent of total well costs.

In the Bakken, Whiting’s team has noticed an increase in service fees. For a Bakken well costs have risen by roughly $200,000 per well. But, nearly $180k of that increase has been offset by improved completion efficiency, according to Whiting.