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Eagle Ford Shale–A Preview of Permian Decline

Energy Aware II

The Eagle Ford Shale was the hottest play in the United States a little more than a decade ago. In mid-2012, there were twice as many rigs drilling horizontal wells in the Eagle Ford as there were in the Permian basin.

U.S. Shale Plays
Figure 1. Map showing U.S. shale plays. Source: EIA.

Now its decline is probably a preview of what to expect from the Permian basin a few years from now.

The Eagle Ford still produces more than a million barrels of oil (mmb/d) and 5 billion cubic feet of gas per day so that’s the first thing to expect about the future Permian. Plays don’t crash and burn but follow an undulating path downward over years or decades.

Eagle Ford production climbed steeply after 2010 and peaked at 1.6 mmb/d in September 2015 (Figure 2). Much of its decline over the years that followed were because of low oil prices. Although output increased again in 2018 and 2019, it never reached its 2015 level. The Pandemic in early 2020 resulted in a second period of decline and recovery. Production has fallen about 6% since August 2020.

Many people think that advances in technology and ingenuity will somehow reverse the inevitable decline of shale plays like the Eagle Ford. Indeed, those factors have made some difference. The estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) for the average well increased through 2021 despite falling field production levels (Figure 3). That was mostly because operators drilled longer laterals and used more effective fracking methods. The advances were impressive but the technology wasn’t free and well costs increased.

Since then, however, well performance has fallen below levels before 2021. Wells that began production in 2022 will produce about 26% less than 2021 wells and the most recently drilled wells will probably produce more than one-third less oil.

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