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Well of the Week – Is this formation the Oak Island of the WCSB?

Follow along as this article delves into the distinction between a chimera and a true exploration prospect. Humans are drawn to the idea of buried treasure. A stash of pirate gold and other loot hidden just under the surface if you only know where to dig. Sure, there might be some booby traps. You might not find it with your first hole. Or your tenth. But you know it just has to be there.

Such is the allure of Oak Island. Legend (or promoters) would have it that there lies Captain Kidd’s golden plunder. Maybe even the jewels of Marie Antoinette! It is an interesting story that has intrigued people through the ages. Over the 228 years since the first excavation there has been enough romance to inspire books of fiction and non-fiction and even a reality tv series (I have not partaken in the experience although Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 65% Audience Rating for what that is worth).

From the Lost Lemon Gold Mine to Lotto 6-49 to pots of gold at the end of the rainbow we are drawn to the concept of unclaimed riches. And each of these shortcuts to easy wealth have their accompanying legends of curses and the trials and tribulations that befall all of those who actually succeed. And after the titillation of the story is over, we sigh, leave these dreams behind and get back to real work.

At this point you might be wondering “What kind of Petro NinjaEnlighten Geoscience Well of the Week is this?”. “Where is the link to the discovery well and a summary of its impressive production? But this time we posit the question: Is the Second White Specks oil play a real exploration target or just a mirage?

Unlike Oak Island, the Second White Specks has an impressive history of results. It was the producing formation in the first oil well in western Canada. There are several tantalizing Second White Specks producers. There are also faint memories of a CSPG Luncheon talk by Kirk Osadetz in which a map outlining approximately one trillion barrels of Second White Specks oil in place came and went on the screen. But the inability to, as of yet, drill consistent follow-up wells using vertical or horizontal wells has led some to conclude that the Second White Specks play is a figment of over-eager imaginations.

But the fact is, that a massive bounty of Second White Specks oil is out there waiting to be exploited. Quantifying this resource is a challenge. The most recent publication on the remaining resource potential is found in Podruski et al. (1988). And while the analysis was sophisticated, there were so few pools to evaluate at the time that the Second and First White Specks were lumped together. Between the two, there were only fifty pools to evaluate, and the potential play size was probably underestimated. The Alberta Energy Regulator now recognizes 138 Second White Specks pools. A renewed analysis along the lines of Podruski e t al. (1988) would quite probably provide a much more rigorous understanding of the remaining resource.

Figure 1. Table of First and Second White Specks Pools used in analysis by Podruski et al. (1988)

Figure 2. Predicted Pool Size plot for the First and Second White Specks Play. Podruski et al. (1988).

Lacking the facilities to re-invent the discovery process model workflow, I will lean into an intuitive look at the remaining potential. Figure 3 is a histogram of Second White Specks Pool size as tabulated in the Crude Oil reserves portion of the AER ST 98 report.

Figure 3. Histogram of Second White Specks pool size (Data from AER ST 98).

It is evident that there are a lot of Second White Specks failures and few successes, but the successes prove the large pools are out there. If we expect a log normal distribution of pool size (however one might define a pool in an unconventional resource play), there are a lot of larger pools out there to fill in the gaps.

Our colleagues at Pressure Diagnostics Limited, who share our interest [NW1] in the Second White Specks, have provided well performance statistics based on vertical and horizontal wells in Figures 4a and 4b. This performance analysis is more relevant in resource plays. There only have been about 200 Second White Specks oil producers spread thinly from Waterton to Karr. Recent attempts to use Multi-frac Horizontal completions have been disappointing.

Figure 4a.

Figure 4b.

Figure 4. Plots of Cumulative Probability vs Cumulative Oil. 4a. Vertical wells. 4.b Horizontal wells. (courtesy of Pressure Diagnostics Limited).

The oil is out there. As with every exploration breakthrough we need to combine innovative geology with equally innovative engineering. Perhaps we need to address the gap in our completion technology.

More on this next week.

My thanks to Kirby Nicholson of Pressure Diagnostics and (as always) Amy Fox for their contributions to this post.


Alberta Energy Regulator, 2023. Crude Oil, ST 98. Accessed 12.23-09-17.

Podruski, J.A., Barclay, J., Lee, P., Osadetz, K., Hamblin, A.P., Procter, R.G., and Taylor, G.C. (1988). Conventional oil resources of Western Canada (light and medium). Geological Survey of Canada, Paper 87-26, p. 1-125.

[NW1]I have kept this as "our" since it has mention the EGL / PDL interest but also alludes to the larger industry interest


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