Tight oil

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For another use of the term "shale oil", meaning synthetic crude oil derived from oil shale, see shale oil .

Tight oil (also known as shale oil, shale-hosted oil or light tight oil, abbreviated LTO) is light crude oil contained in petroleum-bearing formations of low permeability, often shale or tight sandstone. [1] Economic production from tight oil formations requires the same hydraulic fracturing and often uses the same horizontal well technology used in the production of shale gas. While sometimes called "shale oil", tight oil should not be confused with oil shale, which is shale rich in kerogen, or shale oil, which is oil produced from oil shales. [2] [3] [4] Therefore, the International Energy Agency recommends using the term "light tight oil" for oil produced from shales or other very low permeability formations, while the World Energy Resources 2013 report by the World Energy Council uses the terms "tight oil" and "shale-hosted oil". [3] [5]


Shown are conceptual illustrations of types of oil and gas wells. A vertical well is producing from a conventional oil and gas deposit (right). Also shown are wells producing from unconventional formations: a vertical coalbed methane well (second from right); a horizontal well producing from a shale formation (center); and a well producing from a tight sand formation (left). Schematic cross-section of general types of oil and gas resources and the orientations of production wells used in hydraulic fracturing.jpg
Shown are conceptual illustrations of types of oil and gas wells. A vertical well is producing from a conventional oil and gas deposit (right). Also shown are wells producing from unconventional formations: a vertical coalbed methane well (second from right); a horizontal well producing from a shale formation (center); and a well producing from a tight sand formation (left).

In May 2013 the International Energy Agency in its Medium-Term Oil Market Report (MTOMR) said that the North American oil production surge led by unconventional oils - US light tight oil (LTO) and Canadian oil sands - had produced a global supply shock that would reshape the way oil is transported, stored, refined and marketed. [6]

Inventory and examples

Tight oil formations include the Bakken Shale, the Niobrara Formation, Barnett Shale, and the Eagle Ford Shale in the United States, R'Mah Formation in Syria, Sargelu Formation in the northern Persian Gulf region, Athel Formation in Oman, Bazhenov Formation and Achimov Formation of West Siberia in Russia, Arckaringa Basin in Australia, Chicontepec Formation in Mexico, [1] and the Vaca Muerta oil field in Argentina. [7] In June 2013 the U.S. Energy Information Administration published a global inventory of estimated recoverable tight oil and tight gas resources in shale formations, "Technically Recoverable Shale Oil and Shale Gas Resources: An Assessment of 137 Shale Formations in 41 Countries Outside the United States." The inventory is incomplete due to exclusion of tight oil and gas from sources other than shale such as sandstone or carbonates, formations underlying the large oil fields located in the Middle East and the Caspian region, off shore formations, or about which there is little information. Amounts include only high quality prospects which are likely to be developed. [8]

In 2012, at least 4,000 new producing shale oil (tight oil) wells were brought online in the United States. By comparison, the number of new producing oil and gas wells (both conventional and unconventional) completed in 2012 globally outside the United States and Canada is less than 4,000. [9]


Tight oil shale formations are heterogeneous and vary widely over relatively short distances. Tight oil reservoirs subjected to fracking can be divided into four different groups. [10] Type I has little matrix porosity and permeability – leading to fractures dominating both storage capacity and fluid flow pathways. Type II has low matrix porosity and permeability, but here the matrix provides storage capacity while fractures provide fluid-flow paths. Type III are microporous reservoirs with high matrix porosity but low matrix permeability, thus giving induced fractures dominance in fluid-flow paths. Type IV is macroporous reservoirs with high matric porosity and permeability, thus the matrix provides both storage capacity and flow paths while fractures only enhance permeability.

Even in a single horizontal drill hole, the amount recovered may vary, as may recovery within a field or even between adjacent wells. This makes evaluation of plays and decisions regarding the profitability of wells on a particular lease difficult. Production of oil from tight formations requires at least 15 to 20 percent natural gas in the reservoir pore space to drive the oil toward the borehole; tight reservoirs which contain only oil cannot be economically produced. [8] Formations which formed under marine conditions contain less clay and are more brittle, and thus more suitable for fracking than formations formed in fresh water which may contain more clay. [ dubious ] Formations with more quartz and carbonate are more brittle. [8]

The natural gas and other volatiles in LTO make it more hazardous to handle, store, and transport. This was an aggravating factor in the series of fatal explosions after the Lac-Mégantic derailment.


Prerequisites for exploitation include being able to obtain rights to drill, easier in the United States and Canada where private owners of subsurface rights are motivated to enter into leases; the availability of expertise and financing, easier in the United States and Canada where there are many independent operators and supporting contractors with critical expertise and suitable drilling rigs; infrastructure to gather and transport oil; and water resources for use in hydraulic fracturing. [8]

Analysts expect that $150 billion will be spent on further developing North American tight oil fields in 2015.[ needs update ] The large increase in tight oil production is one of the reasons behind the price drop in late 2014. [11]

Outside the United States and Canada, development of shale oil (tight oil) resources may be limited by the lack of available drilling rigs: 2/3 of the world's active drill rigs are in the US and Canada, and rigs elsewhere are less likely to be equipped for horizontal drilling. Drilling intensity may be another constraint, as tight-oil development requires far more completed wells than does conventional oil. Leonardo Maugeri considers this will be "an insurmountable environmental hurdle in Europe". [9]

Detailed studies on production behaviour in prolific shale plays were light tight oil is produced have shown that the average monthly initial production of a tight oil well is around 500 barrels/day, which yields an estimated ultimate recovery in the range 150-290 thousand barrels. [12] As a consequence, exploitation of tight oil tends to be drilling intensive with many new wells needed to ramp up and maintain production over time.

Size of tight oil resources

US EIA estimated technically recoverable tight oil in shale

Following are estimates of technically recoverable volumes of tight oil associated with shale formations, made by the US Energy Information Administration in 2013. Not all oil which is technically recoverable may be economically recoverable at current or anticipated prices.

  1. Kingdom of Bahrain: 80 billion barrels [13]
  2. Russia: 75 billion barrels
  3. United States: 78.2 billion barrels
  4. China: 32 billion barrels
  5. Argentina: 27 billion barrels
  6. Libya: 26 billion barrels
  7. Venezuela: 13 billion barrels
  8. Mexico: 13 billion barrels
  9. Pakistan: 9 billion barrels
  10. Canada: 9 billion barrels
  11. Indonesia: 8 billion barrels

World Total 335 to 345 billion barrels [8]

Other estimates

Australia: A private oil company announced in 2013 that it had discovered tight oil in shale of the Arckaringa Basin, estimated at 3.5 to 223 billion barrels. [14]


In September 2018, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected October tight oil production in the U.S. at 7.6 million barrels per day. [15]

The volume of oil production on tight oil formations in the US depends significantly on the dynamics of the WTI oil price. About six months after the price change, drilling activity changes, and with it the volume of production. These changes and their expectations are so significant that they themselves affect the price of oil and hence the volume of production in the future.

These regularities are described in mathematical language by a differential extraction equation with a retarded argument. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Coalbed methane, coalbed gas, coal seam gas (CSG), or coal-mine methane (CMM) is a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds. In recent decades it has become an important source of energy in United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries.

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Oil reserves proven oil reserves in the ground

Oil reserves denote the amount of crude oil that can be technically recovered at a cost that is financially feasible at the present price of oil. Hence reserves will change with the price, unlike oil resources, which include all oil that can be technically recovered at any price. Reserves may be for a well, a reservoir, a field, a nation, or the world. Different classifications of reserves are related to their degree of certainty.

The Barnett Shale is a geological formation located in the Bend Arch-Fort Worth Basin. It consists of sedimentary rocks dating from the Mississippian period in Texas. The formation underlies the city of Fort Worth and underlies 5,000 mi² (13,000 km²) and at least 17 counties.

Petroleum reservoir reservoir rock filled with hydrocarbons

A petroleum reservoir or oil and gas reservoir is a subsurface pool of hydrocarbons contained in porous or fractured rock formations. Petroleum reservoirs are broadly classified as conventional and unconventional reservoirs. In conventional reservoirs, the naturally occurring hydrocarbons, such as crude oil or natural gas, are trapped by overlying rock formations with lower permeability, while in unconventional reservoirs, the rocks have high porosity and low permeability, which keeps the hydrocarbons trapped in place, therefore not requiring a cap rock. Reservoirs are found using hydrocarbon exploration methods.

Buchan Oil Field

The Buchan oil field is a small oil field with small gas reserves in the central North Sea. It lies in an area known as the South Halibut Basin, approximately 120 miles (190 km) northeast of Aberdeen, Scotland, and is located mainly in license block 21/1A, extending into block 20/5A(E). The field was discovered in August 1974, two years after the issue date for those blocks. It is named after Buchan, an area of N.E. Scotland with its main town being Peterhead.

Extraction of petroleum removal of petroleum from the earth

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Piceance Basin

The Piceance Basin is a geologic structural basin in northwestern Colorado, in the United States. It includes geologic formations from Cambrian to Holocene in age, but the thickest section is made up of rocks from the Cretaceous Period. The basin contains reserves of coal, natural gas, and oil shale. The name likely derives from the Shoshoni word /piasonittsi/ meaning “tall grass”.

Bakken Formation

The Bakken Formation is a rock unit from the Late Devonian to Early Mississippian age occupying about 200,000 square miles (520,000 km2) of the subsurface of the Williston Basin, underlying parts of Montana, North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The formation was initially described by geologist J.W. Nordquist in 1953. The formation is entirely in the subsurface, and has no surface outcrop. It is named after Henry Bakken, a farmer in Tioga, North Dakota, who owned the land where the formation was initially discovered while drilling for oil.

Bend Arch–Fort Worth Basin

The Bend Arch–Fort Worth Basin Province is a major petroleum producing geological system which is primarily located in North Central Texas and southwestern Oklahoma. It is officially designated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) as Province 045 and classified as the Barnett-Paleozoic Total Petroleum System (TPS).

Monterey Formation

The Monterey Formation is an extensive Miocene oil-rich geological sedimentary formation in California, with outcrops of the formation in parts of the California Coast Ranges, Peninsular Ranges, and on some of California's off-shore islands. The type locality is near the city of Monterey, California. The Monterey Formation is the major source-rock for 37 to 38 billion barrels of oil in conventional traps such as sandstones. This is most of California's known oil resources. The Monterey has been extensively investigated and mapped for petroleum potential, and is of major importance for understanding the complex geological history of California. Its rocks are mostly highly siliceous strata that vary greatly in composition, stratigraphy, and tectono-stratigraphic history.

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Montney Formation

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Tight gas

Tight gas is natural gas produced from reservoir rocks with such low permeability that massive hydraulic fracturing is necessary to produce the well at economic rates. Tight gas reservoirs are generally defined as having less than 0.1 millidarcy (mD) matrix permeability and less than ten percent matrix porosity. Although shales have low permeability and low effective porosity, shale gas is usually considered separate from tight gas, which is contained most commonly in sandstone, but sometimes in limestone. Tight gas is considered an unconventional source of natural gas.

Hydraulic fracturing Well-stimulation technique in which rock is fractured by a hydraulically pressurized liquid

Hydraulic fracturing is a well stimulation technique in which rock is fractured by a pressurized liquid. The process involves the high-pressure injection of 'fracking fluid' into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine will flow more freely. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, small grains of hydraulic fracturing proppants hold the fractures open.

As of 2013 the Cline Shale, also referred to as the "Wolfcamp/Cline Shale", the "Lower Wolfcamp Shale", or the "Spraberry-Wolfcamp shale", or even the "Wolfberry", is a promising Pennsylvanian oil play east of Midland, Texas which underlies ten counties: Fisher, Nolan, Sterling, Coke, Glasscock, Tom Green, Howard, Mitchell, Borden and Scurry counties. Exploitation is projected to rely on hydraulic fracturing.

an organic rich shale, with Total Organic Content (TOC) of 1-8%, with silt and sand beds mixed in. It lies in a broad shelf, with minimal relief and has nice light oil of 38-42 gravity with excellent porosity of 6-12% in thickness varying 200 to 550 feet thick.

Wattenberg Gas Field

The Wattenberg Gas Field is a large producing area of natural gas and condensate in the Denver Basin of central Colorado, USA. Discovered in 1970, the field was one of the first places where massive hydraulic fracturing was performed routinely and successfully on thousands of wells. The field now covers more than 2,000 square miles between the cities of Denver and Greeley, and includes more than 23,000 wells producing from a number of Cretaceous formations. The bulk of the field is in Weld County, but it extends into Adams, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, and Larimer Counties.

The oil industry in Poland began with the first oil well in the world, at Bóbrka Field in 1853, followed by the first refinery in 1854. Poland was the third most productive region in the world in 1900. But, due to occupations by Nazis, it now has only a small, mostly state-owned component, with production from its Permian Basin in the west, small and very old fields in the Carpathians in the south, and offshore in the Baltic Sea. For natural gas the country is almost completely dependent on legacy pipelines from the former Soviet Union.

Hydraulic fracturing in Canada

Hydraulic fracturing in Canada was first used in Alberta in 1953 to extract hydrocarbons from the giant Pembina oil field, the biggest conventional oil field in Alberta, which would have produced very little oil without fracturing. Since then, over 170,000 oil and gas wells have been fractured in Western Canada. Hydraulic fracturing is a process that stimulates natural gas or oil in wellbores to flow more easily by subjecting hydrocarbon reservoirs to pressure through the injection of fluids or gas at depth causing the rock to fracture or to widen existing cracks. New hydrocarbon production areas have been opened as hydraulic fracturing stimulating techniques are coupled with more recent advances in horizontal drilling. Complex wells that are many hundreds or thousands of metres below ground are extended even further through drilling of horizontal or directional sections. Massive fracturing has been widely used in Alberta since the late 1970s to recover gas from low-permeability sandstones such as the Spirit River Formation. The productivity of wells in the Cardium, Duvernay, and Viking formations in Alberta, Bakken formation in Saskatchewan, Montney and Horn River formations in British Columbia would not be possible without hydraulic fracturing technology. Hydraulic fracturing has revitalized legacy oilfields. "Hydraulic fracturing of horizontal wells in unconventional shale, silt and tight sand reservoirs unlocks gas, oil and liquids production that until recently was not considered possible." Conventional oil production in Canada was on a decrease since about 2004 but this changed with the increased production from these formations using hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing is one of the primary technologies employed to extract shale gas or tight gas from unconventional reservoirs.


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