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Today in Energy

June 29, 2016

Stripper wells accounted for 10% of U.S. oil production in 2015

graph of U.S. oil well counts and oil production, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on DrillingInfo
Note: Results can vary because of the types of wells, completions, and leases included in the analysis, update schedules of source databases, and estimation results for a number of late-reporting states.

Stripper wells, or wells that produce small volumes, represent an important but decreasing share of total U.S. oil and natural gas production. These wells are characterized as producing no more than 15 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) over a 12-month period. EIA estimates that there were about 380,000 stripper oil wells (so called because they are stripping the remaining oil out of the ground) in the United States operating at the end of 2015, compared to about 90,000 nonstripper oil wells.

Wells become stripper wells through the normal decline of producing wells, some of which may have at one time been very prolific. These wells usually have low ongoing maintenance costs and relatively low transportation costs to move their products to distribution systems. As long as these wells are economically feasible, they are kept active and may continue to produce for many years.

The well counts in this analysis include oil wells that may also produce some natural gas. Wells producing less than 6,000 cubic feet of natural gas per barrel of oil are considered oil wells, while wells producing 6,000 cubic feet or more of natural gas per barrel of oil are considered gas wells. Stripper gas wells produce no more than 90,000 cubic feet per day of natural gas over 12 months.

Despite each stripper well's small individual production, their large number ensures a significant contribution to total oil production. The production share of oil stripper wells has fallen from a high of 19% in 2008 to an estimated 10% in 2015. This decrease in share reflects the large increase of production volume from very prolific wells drilled in shale and tight oil formations with enhanced completion techniques. These wells, as well as non-shale onshore and offshore wells in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and other areas, produce at a much higher rate than stripper wells, and thus account for a much larger percentage of total U.S. oil production.

Principal contributor: Jack Perrin