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An operator producing from the Niobrara shale formation needed to identify the optimal landing targets for planned laterals to increase well production.

The operator had drilled several wells in the Niobrara C zone that were successful due to the zone’s high mechanical rock strength. The Niobrara A and B zones were considered potential producers, but at a higher risk for hydraulic fracturing because of their perceived lower mechanical strength.

The operator needed to evaluate the producability of both the A and B zones, but the cost of conventional core evaluation was considered uneconomical. Normal X-ray diffraction (XRD) analyses showed high clay content, which indicated high-risk, low-mechanical rock strength.

The Volatiles Analysis Service (VAS) reservoir characterization from Baker Hughes, a GE company (BHGE), was used for evaluating “sealed-at-the-well” shale cuttings. VAS service provides a cost-effective, non-invasive formation evaluation log generated from drill cuttings or core plugs to identify pay intervals and characterize hydrocarbon zones. VAS has also proven to be a successful measurement for assessing the estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) of oil in the well.

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Challenges & Results


  • Assessment of higher-risk zones for additional production
  • Conventional coring evaluation considered uneconomical
  • Hydraulic fracturing risk due to perceived low mechanical rock strength


  • High-quality cuttings samples were successfully collected for VAS without risk
  • VAS confirmed recoverable oil and suitable mechanical rock strength in the high-risk zones
  • Operator increased production and avoided the higher cost of conventional core evaluation
  • VAS estimate of ultimate recovery matched the actual production data