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EQT Cautiously Optimistic About New Technique

EQT Corp. recently announced early results of a new completion technique in the Marcellus Shale that it said could increase production more than 50%.

The idea -- called the "30-foot cluster spacing test" -- involved pumping the same amount of water and sand into a well but injecting it at twice the rate as usual. Instead of using 300-foot frack stages with perforations every 60 feet, the test used 150-foot frack stages with perforations every 30 feet.

"The theory behind this design is to focus the hydraulic energy into a smaller volume of rock thereby creating a more dense induced fracture network and increasing the recovery factor for that volume of rock," EQT's Steven Schlotterbeck, exploration and production president, said during an earnings conference call Thursday.

In a recent survey of two parallel wells, the one using the new technique recorded three times as many micro-seismic events as the one designed traditionally from the same amount of stimulated formation, suggesting that the concept is creating a "more dense fracture network," as EQT hoped.

While EQT reported a 60% increase in early production rates from those wells, it warned that additional testing is needed before the company can determine how much the new technique might improve ultimate recovery rates. EQT said it didn't expect to have an answer until the end of the year.

The technique results in about 30 frack stages for a 5,300-foot lateral at a incremental cost of $1.6 million (or around $100,000 for each additional stage) and EQT is using the technique on roughly 20-25% of its wells, according to David Evanson, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity.

While EQT is averaging 5,300-foot laterals, it is aiming for length in the coming year. It's longest lateral drilled to date in the Marcellus is 9,000-feet, and the company is currently permitting a well with laterals as long as 12,000 feet for early next year, Schlotterbeck said. "Our philosophy is to drill the longest lateral we can," he said, while also noting that pooling regulations have limited those ambitions to around 6,000-foot laterals for now.

EQT earned $87.8 million (58 cents/share) in 2Q2011, up from $30 million (20 cents/share) in 2Q2010. That leap in profits is largely from the Marcellus. EQT reported sales volumes of 517 MMcfe/d during 2Q2011, up 47% year over year. And while the Marcellus accounted for 16% of production in 2Q2010, it accounted for 39% of second quarter production this year.

EQT averaged 203 MMcf/d from the Marcellus in the second quarter and expects to close the year averaging 285 MMcf/d (see Shale Daily, May 2).

Through the first half of the year, EQT drilled 112 gross horizontal wells: 61 in the Huron Shale of Kentucky and 51 in the Marcellus. All told, the company plans to drill 120 Huron wells and 100 Marcellus wells before the end of the year.

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