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Apache discovers ‘Alpine High’ play

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Oilfield Technology,

Apache Corporation’s recent announcement that it had made a significant new oil and gas discovery in the southern portion of the Delaware Basin in west Texas has strengthened industry interest in the emerging sub-play, but previous well results from other operators in the immediate area have been poor, according to analysis from IHS Markit (Nasdaq: INFO), a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions.

Alpine High

The Apache discovery, which the company has dubbed the ‘Alpine High’ play, lies primarily in Reeves County, Texas, not far from the New Mexico border, but still within the prolific Permian Basin. Apache has secured more than 300 000 contiguous acres, which Apache said holds an estimated 75 trillion ft3 of gas and 3 billion bbls in the Barnett and Woodford shales alone. The company also sees significant oil potential in the shallower Pennsylvanian, Bone Springs and Wolfcamp formations.

“While this new find is significant and Apache is deservedly excited about its new discovery in this relatively untapped part of the Delaware Basin, previous well results in the immediate area have been poor. It has been hit or miss,” said Imre Kugler, senior consultant, energy research, at IHS Markit, and lead author of a new report entitled IHS Energy Plays and Basins Analysis—Apache’s Alpine High: An Early Look. “Nearly 10 years ago, several Permian Basin specialist companies left the area after drilling a handful of unsuccessful wells. Admittedly, unconventional drilling and completion technology has advanced a good bit since then, but well performance is critical, particularly in the current oil price environment. You don’t have as much of a cushion or tolerance for failure or poor performance at today’s prices as you did at US$120/bbl.”

Kugler said some quality Wolfcamp wells owned by a variety of operators sit within 10 miles of the Apache acreage. However, there are also some poor performing wells nearby, so “it remains to be seen whether Apache’s initial success in the play will carry over into the Wolfcamp formation. It’s too early to tell, but more drilling and appraisal will be necessary,” he said.

According to the IHS Markit analysis, early economics for the area indicate gas production breaks even near US$2.50 per million ft3 of gas, and oil production breaks even at US$55/bbl assuming a ‘constrained’ 24-hour initial production (IP) rate equates to peak-month production and a US$5 million well cost, the midrange guidance. However, if recently published IP rates indicate true 24-hour rates, then brank-evens for the play will be closer to US$65/bbl and US$3 per million ft3, IHS Markit said.

Woodford gas play

According to Kugler, the Woodford gas play is a play in the area of interest, as the ratio of oil at peak is around 15%, but has a wide variance of 1% to 19% in a six-well sample. The projections only consider Woodford, as there is just one Barnett well drilled in the area to date, IHS Markit said.

“To make this part of the play viable, gathering infrastructure will need to be built out,” Kugler said. “However, the play’s proximity to the nearby Waha hub helps. “We have seen associated-gas production nearly double from 0.5 billion ft3/d 0.5 billion ft3/d to nearly 1 billion ft3/d during 2014 to 2016, with Wolfcamp and Bone Spring development. To fully monetise production from this gas and NGL play, additional takeaway capacity may be required.”

As for Apache, the company is quite bullish on its new discovery, and to accelerate the delineation and development of Alpine High, the company is increasing its 2016 capital spending by approximately US$200 million. This figure will represent more than 25% of Apache’s total capital spending programme, according to recent updated capital guidance from the company.

Adapted from a press release by Louise Mulhall

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