The United States is in the midst of an energy revolution. Booming production from the North Dakota Bakken and the Texas Eagle Ford have put the nation on a path toward energy independence. Now, like venture capitalists searching for the next Google, investors are on the hunt for the next great American shale play.
The Spraberry/Wolfcamp promises to be just that. By some estimates, this West Texas field could be the country's largest oil discovery yet. And the scale of this development is truly incredible. Here are seven mind blowing numbers from the play.
1) 50 billion barrels
According to early estimates provided by Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD), the Spraberry/Wolfcamp could contain 50 billion barrels of recoverable oil. If accurate, the formation would be second in size globally only to the infamous Ghawar oil field in Saudi Arabia and larger than the Eagle Ford and the Bakken combined.
2) 3,000 feet thick
What makes the Spraberry/Wolfcamp so exciting is what's known in the industry as 'stacked pay potential.' The formation is like a layered cake with several hydrocarbon producing zones stacked on top of one another including the Spraberry, the upper Wolfcamp, the lower Wolfcamp, and the Cline.
In some parts of the field the pay zone is 3,000 feet to 4,000 feet thick. By comparison, the payzone for the typical Eagle Ford well is about 300 feet. The Spraberry Wolfcamp is like having ten Eagle Fords stacked on top of one another.
3) 4 million acres
The Spraberry Wolfcamp is about 1.3 million acres in size. However, this number doesn't do the play justice because of its thickness. If each layer was laid out end to end, the formation would measure 3 million to 4 million acres.
4) 3,605 barrels per day
The well results coming out of the formation are remarkable. This summer Energen (NYSE:EGN), one of the smaller players in the play, reported a true gusher when one of its Wolfcamp A wells recorded a 24-hour initial production rate of 2,229 barrels of oil equivalent per day, or boepd. For context, anything over 1,000 boepd is considered exceptional.
Last quarter, a Pioneer well drilled horizontally into the Wolfcamp D interval had a 24-hour initial production rate of 3,605 boepd with 74% oil content. Based on these results it appears the multiple benches of the Spraberry/Wolfcamp could have commercial potential.
And these aren't just outliers. This summer Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) brought 26 wells online with 30-day initial production rates averaging 700 boepd. The company is betting big on this play with plans to spend $1.5 billion this year to develop its Permian acreage.
5) $65,100 per capita
Surging oil production has sparked an economic boom in West Texas. Unemployment in Midland, the hub for all of this development, is currently running at 3.2%. In 2011, the city's per capita income ranked No. 2 nationwide at $65,100 per capita.
6) $7.5 million per well
The biggest hurdle holding up development in the Spraberry/Wolfcamp is sheer cost. Well completion rates are in the neighborhood of $7 million and $7.5 million. That's significantly higher than the nearby Eagle Ford.
Fortunately, we are seeing these costs come down. Approach Resources (NASDAQ:AREX) has seen its average well completion costs fall from $9 million to $5.5 million over the past few years due to improved infrastructure, experimenting with frac zones, and the shift to pad drilling. The company expects those costs to fall further.
7) 500,000 barrels per day
But high costs haven't held back development. Over the past five years production from the Spraberry/Wolfcamp has increased five-fold to 500,000 boepd. Total output is expected to surpass two million boepd by 2023.
Foolish bottom line
The numbers are impressive. If the Spraberry/Wolfcamp can live up to a fraction of the hype, it certainly could be the next big American shale play. This is a development investors should keep an eye on.