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Bakken in Full Development; Niobrara Hot for E&P, Whiting Exec Says

Fresh from becoming the largest Bakken producer through a pending multi-billion-dollar acquisition, Whiting Petroleum Corp.'s exploration/development (E&P) senior executive said Wednesday the North Dakota shale play has reached full development phase, while the Niobrara Shale in Colorado may eventually hold twice as many energy resources.

Mark Williams, Whiting senior vice president for E&P, made his comparison on the two booming shale plays as part of remarks to a shale energy program Wednesday night in Denver. The BakerHostetler-sponsored symposium also featured executives from Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Encana Oil & Gas Corp. who echoed Williams' sentiments on the Niobrara.

In response to a question about future mergers, Williams said he was reluctant to speculate on what will happen industry-wide, but in terms of the Bakken he thinks "it has evolved" and just about every first well for all of the spacing units in Montana and North Dakota now has been drilled.

"What that means is that everyone is in the development mode, and as that happens the economies of scale start to drive [drilling] programs," Williams said. "The companies that can get better rig contracts, better frack contracts and better takeaway services and all the things that make this business run have a competitive advantage. So I expect there may be more [mergers] to come."

He shied away from giving any details at this point on the pending $6 billion Kodiak Oil & Gas Corp. deal (see Shale Daily,July 14), but he did say that Whiting is "very excited about being able to bring Kodiak on board."

Even with its increased concentration in North Dakota, Whiting has what Williams called "an awful lot" of oil plays in the Niobrara. "We have outstanding oil saturation, great thickness and a lot of porosity in the [middle] B zone.

"Just for the A and B zones there are 60 million boe for every spacing unit, which is about twice what the Bakken is on average," Williams said. "This is a tremendous opportunity." He said Whiting has two 16-well pilots and two 32-well pilots in which the company intends to apply detailed geoscience techniques, including microseismic approaches.

Eventually, Whiting plans to drill 3,310 gross wells in the Niobrara, and about 1,654 net wells there. Its rig count is currently at three with plans to go to as many as six rigs by a year from now, Williams said.

Williams said the industry in the Williston Basin, Eagle Ford and other major shale plays is "undergoing a revolution in well completion technology. All the wells we're drilling today are significantly better than the ones we drilled last year, and those were a lot better than the ones drilled in 2012."

In greatly shortening well completion times through various technology advances, Whiting has slashed its costs, while also increasing early production in some wells as much as 73%, Williams said. "We have the ability to get in and get out of a frack job in three to four days, compared to a traditional frack job that can take up to 10 days."

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