New Frontiers: The Cline shale might not be the next big thing

In this week’s Oilgram News column, New Frontiers, Starr Spencer talks about the quick rise–and sort of fall–of the Cline shale in West Texas.


When the Cline Shale first moved into the public eye a couple of years ago, the West Texas play quickly set aflame industry’s imagination of a Saudi Arabia-like reservoir that would provide tens of billions of barrels of crude for the oil-hungry US market.

“Shale oil field 3 times bigger than the Eagle Ford (and 6x bigger than the Bakken),” read one headline.

“Cline Shale could be biggest in US history,” read another.

But the Cline, alone, has not yet lived up to the hype, although exploration there is still in its infancy compared to the slightly more mature and greatly prolific Wolfcamp formations above it.

Blog entry continues below…

Request a free trial of: Oilgram News Oilgram News
Oilgram News Oilgram News brings fast-breaking global petroleum and gas news to your desktop every day. Our extensive global network of correspondents report on supply and demand trends, corporate news, government actions, exploration, technology, and much more.
Request a trial to Oilgram News

So, does the Cline contain the 30 billion barrels of recoverable oil that was widely-touted in the press?

“I don’t think we would agree that’s a viable number,” Benjamin Shattuck, research analyst at energy consultants Wood Mackenzie, said. “Twelve to 18 months ago, the Cline was the next big thing. But the data just wasn’t there to support it.”

While some operators have had some success, that has been confined to “a very limited scope of the play,” Shattuck said. “So far variability has been high and results not that great, and at the same time, results improving in the Wolfcamp to the west.”

But the Cline could likely be an adjunct to the Wolfcamp, analysts say. “I’d definitely say it looks hopeful at this point,” Tom Tunstall, research director for the Institute for Economic Development at the University of Texas-San Antonio, said of the formation.

Wells in the Cline—which is sometimes referred to as the Wolfcamp D zone—certainly appear to have potential. For example, one recent Cline well drilled by Pioneer Natural Resources, the University 7-43 10H, debuted at a stunning 3,605 b/d of oil equivalent in its first 24 hours.

Pioneer touted the well, sited in Andrews County about 60 miles northwest of several other Cline wells drilled in Glasscock County, as showing “the best initial production of any Midland Basin interval.”


Located around 9,000-10,000 feet deep in a ghost-shaped spread, the Cline is one of the deepest of at least a dozen productive “stacked” or layered formations that have been drilled in the Permian. It spans several counties in the Midland sub-basin of the eastern Permian and is said to be 250-plus feet thick.

Big independent Devon Energy prominently brought the Cline to industry’s notice two years ago during a quarterly conference call. But last August, company officials said they had decreased rig activity there after seeing “a lot of variability” in the formation.

At the time, the company was running two Cline rigs, both of which would drill what Devon Executive Vice President of Exploration and Production Dave Hager called “mini-developments” in Sterling County, “seeing how low we can get well costs to have economic developments there. …We need to do some studying before we go back out there with a significant program.”

Javan Ottoson, president and chief operating officer for Denver-based SM Energy, said in a recent conference call that these are early days for the Cline.

“There’s no question that some of the…early vertical wells didn’t go quite as deep the way that play worked out,” Ottoson said. SM plans to drill the Cline this year, mainly because its depth would allow the company to hold the acreage by production, preventing expiration of the leases.

Because operators that produce the Cline are typically also drilling the Wolfcamp horizons above it, it is difficult to separate out just how much oil the formation alone produces or could produce. Analysts say that at the very least, industry needs to understand the zone better.

Because it is relatively deep within the Permian, operators say accessing the Cline can add as much as $1 million more to drilling costs than a typical Wolfcamp well. But recent operator comments show industry still appears enthused over its potential.

For example, Range Resources has drilled a Cline well, “which we’re really encouraged by,” Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President Ray Walker said during the company’s Q3 conference call. “We haven’t seen any of the wells clean up like this [so]early.”

Big Permian operator Apache is focusing on Glasscock County, which is also seen by other operators as the heart of the play; the company, which holds holds 520,000 net Cline acres, claims to be the leading Glasscock Cline player with about 40 horizontal wells last year.

Apache also said play is yielding what it characterized as “increasing estimated ultimate recoveries with additional frac [fracture-stimulation] stages, changing frac design and optimized landing points.”

“We are still on a learning curve in the Permian Basin,” Apache CEO Steve Farris said.—Starr Spencer in Houston

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email

All blog comments are moderated before being published.


  1. Starr Spencer at January 30, 2015 5:05 pm

    I do agree with all of you. The Cline received a lot of media hype a couple of years ago. Then I started to hear some second thoughts about it maybe being just another productive formation, but maybe not another Prudhoe Bay or Ghawar.

    If you’re old enough, maybe you remember when the Gulf of Mexico was called the Dead Sea. (It’s been called that a few times in the last several decades.) Or when Pennsylvania was known more for the Liberty Bell than shale gas, or when North Dakota was producing a sleepy 80,000 barrels a day (which it did for years in the late 1990s and early 2000s). All these areas were made profitable and vast wealth was created for individuals and the country–all because of technology.

    I’ve said before that the last half-dozen years have probably been the most exciting period in modern oil history, solely because of the large oil volumes that were extracted from old fields using sophisticated new technologies. If the U.S. could produce 80% more oil in six years, imagine what the next six years will be like.

    Industry gets more efficient in down cycles like the one we’re in currently and usually emerges on the other side ready to overcome the next level of challenges. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again when prices head north.

  2. Sam Hillson at January 30, 2015 8:41 am

    I think this remains to be seen. I agree with the poster above who stated that full potential is hard to gauge when the tech development is still working it’s way along.

  3. John interval at June 1, 2014 9:19 pm

    no shale play has started to show its true potential until the proper bit placement, frac spacing and design is perfected.all have taken years to perfect. reservoir rock production verifys the cline potential which will be as good as the operator. also, basal formations seem to always bear the highest potential.

  4. Dustin at January 27, 2014 1:34 pm

    Come on out here and see for yourself. No slowing down around here. True Devon has pulled back some but they have just shifted more to their new recent acquisitions in the Eagle Ford and their pipeline project. Apache and Pioneer are the players now.


Your Comment