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American Fireworks: The History of US Unconventional Play Development in One Map


In honor of the Fourth of July, I put together a time-lapse map of new wells in the 11 American unconventional plays covered by DI Analytics (Bakken, Eagle Ford, Marcellus, Niobrara, Fayetteville, Haynesville, Barnett, Permian, Granite Wash, Mississippi Lime, and Woodford). Seeing them all together like this, rather than each play in isolation, helps me understand how the US unconventional story has unfolded over the last 15 years.

A couple of highlights:

  • It all starts with the Barnett in Texas, just north of Ft. Worth.
  • Development of the Bakken begins in eastern Montana in 2005, before shifting to western North Dakota – a change I covered in more detail in my last post.
  • The Marcellus first started to develop in southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia, before expanding to northeastern Pennsylvania.
  • The rise and decline of activity in the Haynesville in eastern Texas / western Louisiana is striking. Well starts ramp up from 2008 to 2012 and then decline heavily with the drop in natural gas prices.
  • The Eagle Ford starts late in the game. It doesn’t appear in south Texas until around 2010, but has roared into the lead for oil production.

For reference, here’s a map of the unconventional play areas:

Unconventional Play Areas

Although each play is unique, they are all part of an integrated development environment where what happens in one play can affect another. We also saw this in my rig movements post, which showed there is a fair amount of ongoing rig migration between plays.

Note: We identify unconventional wells by the reservoir they are targeting, rather than by any specific drilling or completion technique. Each play has a start date based on when unconventional drilling and completion started to be applied to these reservoirs. This why there is a pop of wells at the beginning of 2004, which is the start date for several of our plays.

Your Turn

What do you think? Did you notice anything about your favorite play? Leave a comment below.

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Kevin Thuot

Kevin Thuot is an Engineering Research Analyst at Drillinginfo. He is part of the DI Analytics team and focuses on play-level forecasting and operator best practices. His work helps our customers understand how current and future trends in the US unconventional oil and gas industry impact their business. Kevin graduated with a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT in 2011.