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SPE 168709 / URTeC 1576608

Investigating the Critical Geological and Completion Parameters

Thant Impact Production Performance
E.A. Ejofodomi, G. Cavazzoli, J.D. Estrada, Schlumberger; and J. Peano, Tecpetrol
Copyright 2013, Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC)

This paper was prepared for presentation at the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference held in Denver, Colorado, USA, 12-14 August 2013.

The URTeC Technical Program Committee accepted this presentation on the basis of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). The contents of this paper
have not been reviewed by URTeC and URTeC does not warrant the accuracy, reliability, or timeliness of any information herein. All information is the responsibility of, and, is
subject to corrections by the author(s). Any person or entity that relies on any information obtained from this paper does so at their own risk. The information herein does not
necessarily reflect any position of URTeC. Any reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of URTeC is prohibited.

Like any unconventional resource, the economic viability of the Vaca Muerta shale, located in the Neuquén basin,
Argentina, depends on the ability to effectively connect the tight rock fabric to the wellbore by creating complex
fracture networks. This requirement makes the completion strategies and hydraulic stimulation treatments critical to
the economic success of the unconventional reservoirs.

This paper presents a brief review of the Vaca Muerta and identifies the dominant challenges across the basin. To
provide a full understanding of the impact of these challenges on the well performance, several simulations were
carried out with a comprehensive software package that efficiently enables full-cycle seismic-to-reservoir simulation
of unconventional reservoirs. The software handles the impact of structural and property heterogeneity, differential
horizontal stress anisotropy, and natural fractures in the formations, all of which influence the creation of complex
hydraulic fractures in the Vaca Muerta shale. The software also enables specialized, automated gridding of the
modeled complex hydraulic fractures for reservoir simulation, preserving the actual fracture geometry “footprint”
while performing the numerical reservoir simulation.

The Vaca Muerta shale was broken down into three sections (upper, middle, lower) and a parametric study was
performed to qualify and quantify the impact of the overall completion design on the actual well performance across
each section. The completion parameters investigated included fluid types and volumes; pad volumes; proppant
types, volumes, and concentrations; pump rate; fracture degradation (formation embedment and crushing), etc. The
impact of geological and geomechanical parameters, though investigated, are not presented.

The results of the study show the different sections of the Vaca Muerta shale are impacted in different ways. For
example, the hydraulic fracture conductivity has a greater impact across the lower section than the upper section.
This is primarily due to the higher clay volume, pore pressure, and stress, which result in higher proppant
embedment and crushing. Overall, the results provide a detailed, quantitative evaluation of the critical parameters
affecting Vaca Muerta shale completions and act as a guide in developing an optimized completion program.

The Vaca Muerta shale play is a late Jurassic mixed shale deposited along the eastern side of the Andes in Argentina
and central Chile, between 32° and 40°S latitude in the Neuquén basin (Urien et al. 1994). It is a thick, deepwater
marine sequence and prospective throughout most of the basin. This rich organic, black and dark gray marine shale
was deposited in a reduced oxygen environment and spans 7.4 million acres. It occurs at depths from 3,300 ft at the
margin of the basin to 13,200 ft near the center of the basin (Badessich and Berrios 2012). The thickness also varies
from as little as 80 ft in the proximal areas to over 1,500 ft at the basin center (Lagaretta and Villar 2011. In contrast
to US shale plays, the Vaca Muerta is overpressured across most of the basin (Badessich and Berrios. The total
organic content (TOC) ranges between 1 and 8%, with spikes of 12% (Urine et al. 1994, Cruz et al. 2002, Badessich
and Berrios 2012). The matrix porosity of the Vaca Muerta shale varies from 4 to 13% with an average of 9%
(Badessich and Berrios 2012) based on log and core measurements. Matrix permeability varies from hundreds of
nanodarcies to tens of microdarcies. Natural fractures are also prevalent and play a crucial role in the well
production performance. To date, some early completions are still flowing naturally without any stimulation
treatment (Blanco 2011). Similar to the Eagle Ford shale formation in the US, there are three distinct hydrocarbon
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generation windows across the Vaca Muerta shale in the Neuquén basin (Lagaretta and Villar 2011). The geological
quality of the Vaca Muerta seems to be superior to that of other US shale plays. Blaco 2011 provides a good
comparison of some average reservoir properties from the Vaca Muerta and US shale plays.

Its thickness, depth, areal extent, TOC, depositional environment, mineralogy, pressure, and thermal maturity make
the Vaca Muerta a world-class resource. Of the characteristics that make it attractive, the thickness appears to be the
most impressive. The average gross thickness of almost 700 ft greatly exceeds that of prominent US shale plays; e.g.
100 ft in the Bakken shale and 300 ft in the Barnett shale. But the huge thickness also creates a challenge to
successful drilling of horizontal wells to effectively stimulate the entire interval. The decision to use mainly vertical
rather than horizontal wells has impacted the economic viability of the play but, so far, most wells completed in the
Vaca Muerta shale have been vertical. The justification of vertical well completion also stems from the fact that the
entire gross section of the Vaca Muerta shale is productive (Blanco 2011).

Most of the wells are completed with wireline pump down bridge plugs, perforations, and three to four fracture
stages. Vaca Muerta is currently a vertical well shale play. Several factors hinder a progression to the horizontal well
completion strategies seen in US shales. These include logistical issues (equipment and product services), water
availability and handling issues, the thickness that makes it challenging to effectively stimulate the entire section
with one horizontal well, and the overall drilling and completion costs. A hybrid fluid system comprising a mixture
of slickwater, linear gel, and crosslinked gel fluids carrying bauxite proppant is commonly pumped on each stage.
This combination is designed to create sufficient fracture surface area and high conductivity.

The average vertical well production in the Vaca Muerta shale is somewhat lower than that of horizontal wells
completed in the Eagle Ford or Bakken shales (Blanco 2011). Nonetheless, these US wells are typically completed
with 15 to 20 fracture stages rather than the 4 stages used in the vertical Vaca Muerta shale wells. Thus, this result
implies a much higher productivity profile in the Vaca Muerta shale. The price of oil and new drilling and
completion technologies have made the liquids-rich Vaca Muerta shale one of the most active unconventional plays
in the world outside the US. The majority of the wells require massive hydraulic fractures to achieve commercial
rates. Generally, 4 fracture stages are performed on vertical wells and 10 on horizontal wells. Since 2010, more than
300 stimulation treatments have been performed in the Vaca Muerta shale.

The objective of this paper is to highlight some of the main completion challenges in the Vaca Muerta and evaluate
the impact of key completion parameters on the production by using an integrated unconventional process. Some of
the completion parameters investigated in this paper include pump rate; pad volume; stage concentration; fluid
types; and proppant type, volume, mesh size, and combination.

Key Challenges for Vaca Muerta Shale Development

Development of shale reservoirs is unique and requires innovative solutions. Economic development of these
complex nanodarcy reservoirs often involves a multidisciplinary approach and understanding of the parameters that
govern the behavior of the formations. Some of the major challenges in successfully exploiting the vast resource in
the Vaca Muerta shale include logistics (equipment, materials, personnel, etc.), and proper reservoir

Unconventional reservoirs require hydraulic fracture stimulation to achieve economic production; this stimulation
involves vast amounts of water, proppant, chemicals, and other materials in addition to special equipment. But the
current importation policy in Argentina has made the importation of these goods and equipment quite difficult and
challenging, creating a bottleneck in the shale development process.

Historically, the available fracturing equipment in Argentina has been that designed for conventional reservoirs,
rendering it unsuitable for stimulation of shale resources. When the first shale gas well was completed in 2010, only
one service provider in the country could provide wellhead pressure control equipment rated for 10,000 psi. In
addition to the lack of needed hydraulic horsepower and the other peripheral equipment (10,000-psi flowback
manifolds, 2-in. coiled tubing strings, 10,000-psi cement heads, testing equipment, etc.), water and proppant
handling were logistical challenges. Typically, the size of the stimulation treatments performed in the Vaca Muerta
shale is several orders of magnitude greater than those performed in conventional reservoirs. An average vertical
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well completion of three to four stages, averaging 7,000 bbl of water, requires about 30 tanks on location to store the
water and perform the stimulation treatments. This is significant, especially when compared to the three or four
tanks needed when stimulating conventional reservoirs. No service company in Argentina has the required tank
capacity to perform multiple completions of this size. US shale experience has demonstrated that natural ponds fed
by water wells can solve this constraint, but Argentina’s environmental policy to “construct” these types of water
reservoirs also impedes development.

Transportation and proppant handling are significant challenges. Bauxite imported from Brazil has been the
proppant of choice for almost all stimulation jobs in Argentina because of its availability, low price, and
performance. The proppant is typically transported to the field location in 3,000-lbm bags rather than by the
proppant tankers or haulers used in the US. Using this bag system greatly reduces the overall efficiency of the field
operations because of the time it takes to offload the bags into the appropriate compartment before each fracture
stage. A typical Vaca Muerta shale stage requires about 500,000 lbm of proppant (~167 bags), which takes ~5 to 6
hr to offload. This issue impacts the number of fracture stages that can be executed in a day and ultimately the
overall job efficiency.

Qualified labor with unconventional reservoir experience in country is limited to what companies have been able to
replicate from experiences in the US. Service companies must find the right mix of US-based expertise blended with
the local knowledge. Unconventional treatments require more equipment, so a larger work force has been put in
place to mobilize, operate, and perform maintenance. Nonetheless, including more personnel has not been an easy
task since most of the required training has been performed while executing the jobs. The most important milestone
achieved has been the ability to perform multiple stages in one day. This practice has highly reduced the total cost of
the completion and allowed a higher effective use of equipment. The majority of the local know-how has been built
on US experience blended with in-house capabilities and therefore the initial completions were slow.

The city of Neuquén has also been impacted by the Vaca Muerta shale development. It is increasingly difficult to
obtain adequate accommodations for oilfield personnel because of the high level of activity in the basin. Although
water availability is not currently an issue, environmental issues will need to be addressed thoroughly in the near
future. Several companies are already working on recycling the flowback water from previous stimulation
treatments for reuse on subsequent treatments. Prior to start of operations, operating companies are required by law
to provide a water management and usage plan to the Neuquén authorities and pay a fee for the water usage.

Reservoir Characterization
Proper characterization of reservoir-quality tight shales like the Vaca Muerta is critical for evaluating their potential.
Because of their very low matrix permeability, it is impractical to perform traditional pre-fracture well tests.
Furthermore, very complex pore structures, rock fabric, and digenesis make it very difficult to accurately quantify
matrix permeability using log measurements (Cipolla et al. 2011a, Glorioso and Rattia 2012). Also, the difficulty in
determining the reservoir permeability, combined with quantifying the presence and distribution of natural fractures,
presents significant obstacles to reservoir characterization.

Shale plays are heterogeneous in nature as a result of their digenesis and depositional sequence. This presents
another challenge in the characterization of these reservoirs. Baihly et al. 2010 showed the high degree of production
variability from a sample of 600 horizontal wells in the Barnett shale, covering a 50-sq mile area of northwest
Tarrant County, Texas. Owing to the heterogeneous nature of shale reservoirs, it is often necessary to gather a large
amount of data from 3D seismic, log, and core measurements from vertical and horizontal wells to characterize the
vertical and lateral variations in reservoir, rock properties, and natural fractures to optimize the completion strategy
and stimulation designs (Ejofodomi et al. 2011).

Integrated Unconventional Workflow

Historically, three main challenges impeded the ability to successfully model hydraulic fractures in shale reservoirs:
reservoir heterogeneity (structural and property variation), horizontal stress anisotropy, and natural fractures.
However, the introduction of new technologies and processing capabilities have addressed these issues, including
wiremesh (Xu et al. 2010) and rigorous unconventional fracture simulators (Cipolla et al. 2010a and 2011b). The
objective of this paper is not to review the detailed description of these models. The reader is encouraged to review
the original papers for detailed explanation of the development and algorithms.
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Use of the fracture simulators is part of an overall integrated unconventional process for Vaca Muerta, as shown on
Fig. 1. This workflow was first applied on a Vaca Muerta exploratory well. Fig. 2 shows a cross section of some of
the petrophysical and geomechanical logs acquired on the well. The detailed completion strategy is not discussed
here. . Fig. 3 is an example of modeled simulations in the Vaca Muerta shale formation. The simulated complex
fractures are automatically gridded, enabling reservoir simulation to be carried out to optimize the completion

Figure 1: Integrated unconventional workflow.

Parametric Production Evaluation: Model Setup

To truly develop an optimized completion program, it is imperative to understand how both completion and
geological parameters influence the productivity of the well. To achieve this, a parametric production study was
performed on the Vaca Muerta exploratory well to determine how these parameters influence its production
performance. Based on the varying log properties, the gross Vaca Muerta shale interval was divided into three
separate sections: upper, middle, and lower. First, a base case was established by modeling the actual post-
stimulation production history of the well via a numerical reservoir shale simulator. Three hydraulic fracture stages
were initially planned on the vertical well, but isolation issues resulted in execution of only one stage. Fig. 4 shows
the modeled production profile of the single-stage fracture treatment. Next, for each completion parameter
investigated the resulting fracture geometry was obtained and automatically gridded, and the resulting oil production
obtained with the numerical simulator was compared to the base case to see the resulting impact or difference. The
goal of this study was to identify the behaviors and trends, not necessarily actual quantitative values.
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Vaca Muerta
Vaca Muerta
Vaca Muerta
Figure 2: Petrophysical and geomechanical logs across the Vaca Muerta shale formation. Track 1, gamma ray; Track 2, mineralogy; Track 3, pay
flag; Track 4, water saturation (blue curve), total porosity (black curve), and effective porosity (red shading); Track 5, permeability; Track 6,
Poisson’s ratio; Track 7, Young’s modulus; Track 9, pore pressure; Track 10, anisotropic minimum horizontal stress gradient (red = 0.6 psi/ft,
blue = 1 psi/ft); Track 11, reservoir quality index; Track 12, completion quality index; and Track 13, composite index.

Unconventional fracture model geometry wiremesh fracture geometry

Automatic refine un-structured grids Simulated Wiremesh fracture geometry Automatic refined structured grids
Simulated UFM fracture geometry around Wiremesh fracture geometry
around UFM fracture geometry
50/120 Proppant
40/80 Proppant
30/50 Proppant
20/40 Proppant

2ft cell width

for fractures

Natural fractures

Figure 3: Example of modeled fracture geometry in the Vaca Muerta shale illustrating interaction of generated fracture with natural fractures and
distribution of the 50/120-, 40/80-, 30/50-, and 20/40-mesh proppants within the created complex fractures and automatically gridded using
unstructured grids for reservoir simulation (left figure). Example of a modeled fracture geometry in the Vaca Muerta shale (top left),
automatically gridded using structured grids for reservoir simulation (right figure).
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Observed Oil Observed Water

Simulated Oil Simulated Water
120 350

100 300

Water Production Rate STB/DAY

Oil Production Rate STB/DAY


Well Intervention 200




0 0
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 200 220 240 260 280 300 320 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 200 220 240 260 280 300 320

Figure 4: Vaca Muerta shale production history match for a single-stage vertical well completion via numerical reservoir simulation.

Parametric Production Evaluation: Completion Parameters

The completion parameters investigated included pump rate; pad volume; stage concentration; fluid types; and
proppant type, volume, mesh size, and combination.

Pump Schedule
Fig. 5 shows the pad volume, pump rate, and stage concentration sensitivity results. The vertical line at the zero
mark represents the base case; the horizontal axis is the cumulative oil production relative to the base case. The
profiles across the different Vaca Muerta sections are represented by horizontal bars. Two pad volume cases were
considered, 25% and 35%, and compared to the base case. The analysis reveals that pad volumes greater than the
base case of 12% negatively impact the production performance across the lower section. This is due to the
excessive upward fracture height growth, which reduced the effectiveness of the created fracture across that interval.
In the middle section, it appears that the higher the pad volume, the better the production performance. A somewhat
similar behavior can be observed across the upper interval, where a pad volume of 35% improves the production
performance by a little bit (less than 5%).

Pad Volume Sensitivity Avg. Pump Rate Sensitivity Stage Concentration Sensitivity
a b c
Pad 25%
Upper VM Upper VM Upper VM
Pad 35%

Middle VM Middle VM Middle VM

Lower VM 30 bpm Lower VM 0.8 lbm/gal Lower VM

80 bpm 2 lbm/gal
-40% -30% -20% -10% 0% 10% 20% -25% -20% -15% -10% -5% 0% 5% 10% 15% -30% -20% -10% 0% 10% 20% 30%
Production Impact, % Production Impact, % Production Impact, %

Figure 5: (a) Impact of pad volume, (b) Pump rate, and (c) Stage concentration on oil production across the different Vaca Muerta shale intervals.

A behavior similar to that of the pad volume was observed with the average pump rate sensitivity. Lower pump rates
are actually better across the lower and upper Vaca Muerta shale intervals, and high pump rates could potentially
increase the production performance by more than 10% across the middle interval. Higher rates tend to promote
excessive upward fracture height growth primarily across the lower and upper intervals, reducing the overall
efficiency of the hydraulic fracture and ultimately causing poorer performance.

Aggressive designs having higher stage concentrations improve the production performance across the lower and
middle intervals but conservative designs with lower stage concentrations are better across the upper section,
potentially increasing the production by 20%. The aggressive designs provide better resistance to the higher stresses
across the lower and middle intervals; also, the higher fracture conductivities created with this type of design
facilitate the oil flow better across the intervals.

Fluid Type
A hybrid fluid system consisting of slickwater, linear gel, and crosslinked gel fluids is routinely pumped in the Vaca
Muerta shale. But are these different fluid systems actually necessary or is it possible to use just one of them without
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negatively impacting the well productivity? To answer these questions, sensitivity analysis on the fluid types was
performed. The results are shown in Fig. 6a, which reveals that use of only slickwater could potentially reduce the
production by as much as 50%. This is better understood when the created fracture surface area is compared to the
percentage of it that is actually propped (Fig. 6b). The results shows more fracture surface area is created with
lighter fluid viscosity (e.g., slickwater), but the ability to transport the proppant to the whole fracture area is
significantly reduced. Thus, a combination of this fluid system is critical in the Vaca Muerta shale to enable
sufficient fracture surface area to be created with adequate conductivity for optimal production performance.

a b 120%
Crosslinked Gel Linear Gel Slickwater
Upper VM 100%

Propped Surface Area (%)

Linear Gel Middle VM 60%
Crosslinked Gel
Ability to completely prop entire fracture
reduces with larger fracture surface area
Lower VM 20%

20,000 70,000 120,000 170,000
-90% -80% -70% -60% -50% -40% -30% -20% -10% 0% 2
Production Impact, % Fracture Network
Fracture Network Surface

Figure 6: (a) Pumping a single fluid system rather than a hybrid system in the Vaca Muerta shale could potentially reduce the production by as
much as 50%. (b) Comparison of the propped fracture surface area to the total created surface area.

Fig. 7 shows the impact of the proppant mesh size on the production performance. The four cases shown represent
the different scenarios of pumping only one size of proppant as opposed to the basin case of four different sizes.
Overall, the smaller sizes are more critical in improving the productivity across the upper Vaca Muerta shale
interval, and the larger sizes (30/60 and 20/40) do a better job across the lower and middle intervals. This is
primarily due to the ability of larger proppant to withstand the higher stresses across the bottom zones in the Vaca
Muerta shale, thus preserving the created fracture conductivity and ultimately increasing the production
performance. However, the relative costs of the different proppants might make it uneconomical to have only one
size. Furthermore, it is more difficult to transport larger proppants farther into the formation, and that reduces the
extent of the effective fracture area and the eventual drainage region of the well.

Case 1 Case 3

Upper VM
Upper VM

50/120 Middle VM
30/50 Middle VM

100% 100%
Lower VM
Lower VM

-10% -5% 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30%

-100% -80% -60% -40% -20% 0% 20%
Production Impact, %
Production Impact, %
Case 2 Case 4

Upper VM Upper VM

40/80 Middle VM 20/40 Middle VM

100% 100%
Lower VM Lower VM

-20% -10% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% -30% -10% 10% 30% 50% 70% 90% 110%
Production Impact, % Production Impact, %

Figure 7: Impact of proppant mesh size on the production performance. Case 1, 100% of 50/120 mesh; Case 2, 100% of 40/80 mesh; Case 3,
100% of 30/60 mesh; and Case 4, 100% of 20/40 mesh. Horizontal bars colored blue reflect positive production increase; orange bars reflect
negative production increase.

Thus, to overcome these challenges, a combination of proppant sizes is routinely used. Fig. 8 shows the production
sensitivity on the various proppant combinations. For example, in Case 1, 45% of the proppant volume is made up
of 20/40 mesh, 30% of 30/50 mesh, 15% of 40/80 mesh, and 10% of 50/120 mesh, respectively. Overall, having
high percentage per volume of 30/60 and 20/40 meshes improves the production performance primarily across the
lower and middle Vaca Muerta shale intervals. The larger percentage volumes of smaller mesh sizes provides
relatively similar production performance as the base case.
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Ceramic proppants, though more expensive than regular proppants, provide higher conductivities for the fracture
system. But the actual production benefits of pumping ceramic proppants have to be understood to ensure the
completion campaign is economically viable. Fig. 9a shows a comparison of production performance after pumping
regular and ceramic proppants. The result shows pumping regular sand instead of ceramic proppant could potentially
reduce the production by as much as 50%. This impact is more severe across the lower Vaca Muerta shale section
because of its higher stresses. The negative productivity impact gradually reduces to less than 10% across the upper
section as a result of the lower stresses and pressure. Thus, high-strength proppants are more critical across the
lower and middle intervals with high stresses and pore pressures to withstand degradation of the proppant pack.

Case 1 Case 3
10% Upper VM 15% Upper VM

15% 10%
45% Middle VM
Middle VM

30% Lower VM
45% Case 3
Lower VM

-45% -35% -25% -15% -5%

-45% -35% -25% -15% -5% 5% 15%
Production Impact, %
Production Impact, %
50/120 40/80 30/50 20/40 50/120 40/80 30/50 20/40

Case 2 Case 4
15% Upper VM 10% Case 4
Upper VM

30% 15%
Middle VM Middle VM

Lower VM 30% Lower VM

-5% 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% -45% -35% -25% -15% -5%
Production Impact, % Production Impact, %
50/120 40/80 30/50 20/40 50/120 40/80 30/50 20/40

Figure 8: Impact of different proppant combinations on the production performance. Larger proppant sizes are critical across the lower and
middle Vaca Muerta intervals; smaller size is critical across the upper interval. Horizontal bars colored blue reflect a positive production increase,
and orange bars reflect a negative production increase.

Fig. 9b shows the production sensitivity of the volume of proppant. A linear trend can be observed across all three
Vaca Muerta Shale intervals; i.e., the larger the proppant volume, the higher the production. But it is important to
note that the relative percentage increase is not exactly the same. For example, decreasing the proppant volume from
the basin average of 450,000 lbm to 150,000 lbm, a 66% reduction, translates to a production decrease of ~50%. But
increasing the proppant volume by ~45% to 600,000 lbm results in just a 15% production increase. Therefore,
although pumping higher proppant volume improves the production performance, the cost/benefit ratio should be

a b
Regular Sand
Upper VM Upper VM

Middle VM Middle VM

Lower VM 150,000 lbm Lower VM

650,000 lbm

-60% -50% -40% -30% -20% -10% 0% -70% -50% -30% -10% 10% 30%
Production Impact, % Production Impact, %

Figure 9: (a) Pumping regular sand instead of ceramic proppant reduces the production performance by as much as 50%, especially across the
lower shale intervals. (b) Impact of lower (150,000 lbm) and higher (650,000 lbm) proppant volumes on the production performance are
compared to base case of 445,000 lbm.
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Proppant embedment and crushing tests were performed to investigate the severity of fracture degradation in the
Vaca Muerta shale formation. Two ceramic proppant sizes, 50/120 and 30/50 mesh, were tested at four
concentrations. The tests were conducted at increasing confining pressure with a 24-hr extension at the end of the
test. Images of the split core samples, topography, proppant embedment, and crushing effects are shown in Fig. 10.
The embedment results are presented in Table 1. Overall, a significant level of embedment (> 35%) was observed at
especially at low proppant concentrations.

Table 1 – Vaca Muerta shale embedment test results

Proppant Loading Test Fluid Embedment, %
Mesh Size
50/120 2× 3% KCl 43.5
50/120 4× 3% KCl 20.3
30/50 1× 3% KCl 31.4
30/50 2× 3% KCl 44.0

Fig. 11a is a plot of the normalized fracture conductivity versus closure stress. Sensitivity studies were performed to
evaluate the impact of these effects on the well performance in the Vaca Muerta shale. Fig. 11b shows the effect of
the proppant embedment and crushing on the production across the different intervals. Overall, the impact of the
fracture degradation on the production performance reduces from the base to the top of the Vaca Muerta shale.
Production reductions of up to 60% across the lower intervals were observed. To counter this effect, it is imperative
that high-stress proppants with adequate volumes are placed across these intervals.

a b c d

Figure 10: Vaca Muerta crushing and embedment test analysis. (a) Before and after test images of 30/50-mesh proppant, 1× loading case. (b)
Example of embedment measurement for 30/50-mesh proppant. (c) Image of 30/50-mesh proppant, 1× loading crushing. (D) Post-test topography
map of 30/50-mesh proppant, 1× loading case.

a b
Upper VM
Normalized Fracture Conductivity (md-ft)


Middle VM
30/50 ISP 1x 3% KCl 70 F
50/120 ISP 2X 3% KCl 70 F
30/50 ISP 2X 3% KCl 70 F
50/120 ISP 4X 3% KCl 70 F

1.0E-04 Lower VM

500 psi 1000 psi 2000 psi 4000 psi 6000 psi 8000 psi 9200 psi 9200 psi 9200 psi 8000 psi 8000 psi 9200 psi 9200 psi 9200 psi 9200 psi
(6hrs) (12hrs) (6hrs) (12hrs) (6hrs) (12hrs) (18hrs) (24hrs)
-120% -100% -80% -60% -40% -20% 0%
Confinement Stress (psi) Production Impact, %

Figure 11: (a) Normalized fracture conductivity versus increasing closure stress. (b) Fracture degradation from crushing and embedment reduces
the production performance by as much as 60%.

Critical Factors for a Successful Completion Program

This section summarizes some of the pertinent factors for achieving a successful completion campaign in the Vaca
Muerta shale formation:

Reservoir Characterization: Before a completion program can be developed, a good understanding of the potential
and deliverability of the reservoir has to be determined. This can be accomplished by running the necessary logs
including triple combo, petrophysics, geomechanical, image, etc. and calibrating these measurements to laboratory
data (e.g., cores).
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Optimized Completion Strategy: An integrated unconventional reservoir workflow, like that shown on Fig. 8, should
be used to develop the eventual completion strategy and the impact on the well productivity determined to ensure
that the designs “mirrors” the true potential of each interval.
Hydraulic Fracture Monitoring: Microseismic fracture monitoring has become one of most critical technologies used
to understand the propagation behavior of stimulation treatments. In the Vaca Muerta specifically, it has enabled
operators to quantify and evaluate the nature of the fracture created during the hydraulic stimulation treatment
(Badessich and Berrios 2012).

The impact of the completion parameters on the production performance in the Vaca Muerta shale was evaluated
using an integrated unconventional workflow. Overall, the results indicate different intervals respond quite
differently; thus, any completion strategy should be based on the unique set of properties across each interval.
Additionally, the study revealed the following:
 Lower pump rates improve the production performance across the lower and upper intervals; higher rates are
better for better production performance across the middle interval.
 Pumping only one fluid system (e.g., slickwater) could potentially reduce the production performance by as
much as 50% as a result of difficulty in effectively propping a large fracture surface area.
 A linear trend was observed between proppant volume pumped and production performance.
 Ceramic proppant provides the best performance. Regular sand could potentially reduce the productivity by
as much as 50%.
 Larger proppant sizes increase the productivity across lower and middle sections.
 Aggressive proppant loading positively impacts the production across the lower and middle intervals;
conservative loading has a similar impact but [except for?] across the upper section.
 Embedment and crushing are more severe in lower and middle sections. Productivity reduction of up to 60%
was observed.

The authors thank the management of Tecpetrol S.A and Schlumberger for their permission to present this paper.
Special thanks go to Art Milne, Sumant Kamat, George Waters, Jerome Maniere, and Hitoshi Onda for their support
and assistance in making this paper to reality.


Badessich, M.F. and Berrios, V. 2012. Integrated Dynamic Flow Analysis to Characterize an Unconventional Reservoir in
Argentina: The Loma La Lata Case. Paper SPE 156163 presented at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and
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