by Linita E. Mathew

    The Super Seven: The Top 7 Shale Plays Dominating North American Oil and Gas Production

    New drilling strategies using a combination of hydraulic fracturing, vertical and horizontal drilling have drastically increased the amount of production in many areas. In 2012, 7 major plays were held solely responsible for $54 billion dollars spent on land drilling and development.[1] These Super Seven fields are considered to be the most productive shale formation plays in North America:

    Anadarko-Woodford (Cana-Woodford) Shale

    This crude oil and liquids play lies beneath several counties of western Oklahoma, but was named after its Canadian County. Driven by five main companies, Devon Energy leads with holding 40% of drilling activity in this area.[2] Lying at 8,000 to 16,000 feet deep, it is considered the deepest commercial horizontal shale play in the world.[3] Even though horizontal drills did not enter the area until 2007, vertical drills were planted here as early as the 1930’s. Activity in this area declined in July of 2012, but has recently begun to stabilize.

    Bakken Shale Oil Formation

    This oil formation coined after Henry Bakken, the original landowner of where the first drill was planted, is considered to be one of the largest developments in North America. It spans across Eastern Montana, Western North Dakota and parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Consisting of three layers (upper shale, middle dolomite, and a lower level of shale) it is estimated to hold as much as 4000 billion barrels of oil equivalent. Many operators have put a hand in the Bakken Shale Oil Formation as holdings are thought to equal around 500,000 net acres,[4] Continental Resources and Hess are currently leading the play. The Bakken Shale Oil Formation is perhaps the most promising play as recently new technology has helped tap into a much larger reserve. It is estimated that 400 billion barrels of oil equivalent may be present in this shale formation.[5]

    Eagle Ford Shale

    With 200 working rigs, Eagle Ford Shale easily becomes the most active shale play in the world. Named after Eagle Ford, Texas, it resides directly beneath the Austin Chalk reaching depths of 4,000 to 14,000 feet. Based on capital invested, it is currently considered one of the largest oil and gas developments in the world.[6] An astounding 4000 barrels are drilled per day and produces dry gas, wet gas, NGLs, condensate and oil. As a consequence, this formation is able to cushion the economy when natural gas dips in price.

    Granite Wash

    It carries approximately 70 active rigs stretching from Texas Panhandle to Southwest Oklahoma. From 7,000 to 15,000 feet, drilling is performed vertically and horizontally, with a combination of multi-stage fracturing. Bringing in new technology and combining drilling practices has had a strong positive influence over the oil and natural gas production in this formation. 2600 operating wells exist in the Granite Wash, Chesapeake Energy and Devon energy are among them.


    Lies beneath much of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. The natural gas resides in organic rich shale found anywhere from 0 – 9,000 feet. There are approximately 450 wells at play in this region. The U.S. Geological Survey has released the possibility of the Marcellus Shale containing 1,925 billion cubic feet of natural gas, while industrial and academic estimations reach the trillions.[7]


    An up and coming oil and natural gas formation located in Northeastern Colorado and parts of Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas. Vertical and horizontal drilling are used in the formation that ranges from 3,000 to 14,000 feet in depth. Niobrara is often referred to as the “NeoBakken” due to the vision of its promising future. Many companies have begun investing in Niobrara, particularly Noble Energy who has already invested in 440,000 net acres.


    Born in the 1940’s this formation spans eight counties in West Texas and is known to be largest oil field in the United States. 560 of the 900 working rigs in Texas are located in the Permian.[8] Pioneer holds 825,000 acres and has begun using unconventional drilling methods to target untapped resources. Under covering new sources has re-ignited industry activity in the play. As new technologies emerge and are introduced into oil fields, leaps and bounds have been made in awakening an abundance of resource that previously remained dormant among these plays. The extractions of oil and natural gas have reached all time high records in both previously reliable and stagnant areas within them. By studying production in the seven shale formations discussed above, and understanding how new technologies can bring more efficiency to the field, an overall improvement in the global production of oil can occur. Working together to learn new strategies and developing ways to enhance current technologies will only create a more widespread technique that can be used globally to delve deep into the resources that lay beneath our feet.

    [1] http://www.ogfj.com/articles/print/volume-9/issue-8/features/7-shale-plays-currently-driving.html
    [2] http://www.ogfj.com/articles/print/volume-9/issue-8/features/7-shale-plays-currently-driving.html
    [3] http://www.naturalgasintel.com/canawoodfordinfo#top
    [4] http://www.naturalgasintel.com/canawoodfordinfo#top
    [5] http://www.bakkenshale.com
    [6] http://ww.eaglefordshale.com
    [7] http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/topogeo/econresource/oilandgas/marcellus/marcellus_faq/marcellus_shale/index.htm [8] http://www.nasdaq.com/article/permian-basin-shale-leads-in-texas-oil-resurgence-cm378451

    Linita E. Mathew

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