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The Niobrara tight oil shale play is the oilfield equivalent of the young athlete, who is built up as having world-class potential, only to struggle in meeting the lofty expectations. To be sure, the near-universal euphoria that accompanied high initial flowrates a couple of years ago has been replaced with cautious optimism, as operators work to further their understanding of the complex organic-rich play in the heart of the U.S. Rockies.
Nevertheless, despite a comparatively brief, and at times fickle, horizontal exploration and production history, and ever-increasing environmental challenges, the independent, largely home-grown operators dominating the liquids-rich Niobrara continue to maintain reasonably stable drilling programs. In the meantime, geophysical investigations are underway to get a better grasp of the highly variable natural fracturing, to help operators uncover the secrets to increasing the drainage of horizontal and multi-frac wellbores in what was once hyped as the “Bakken-lite.”
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