Monday, October 19, 2009

shale gas estimates optimistic?

The Oil Drum | Unfortunately I have had to miss the ASPO Meeting in Denver this week, and so cannot provide the daily reports that I have written in the past. But I notice that at least one of the talks has already caught a significant amount of press, and that is the one by Arthur Berman on the gas production from shale deposits such as the Barnett, Haynesville and Marcellus.

There has been a considerable hype in the press about the value of the gas from these shales, and the ability that they provide to bring in an “Age of Natural Gas”. This picture of a large supply of natural gas has been strengthened by the increase in production from a number of the gas shale fields, at the same time that the recession hit, and as a result there has been more gas available than needed, and the price has dropped considerably as a result. This, in turn, has led to a considerable reduction in the number of rigs that have been drilling new wells.

Natural gas has been steadily increasing its share of electricity generation, rising to over 20% of the market, on its way to 25%. Natural gas is favored because of its reduced carbon footprint over coal, and it has historically been used since it is somewhat easier to start and stop gas turbines than it is coal-fired power. Thus natural gas is seen as a favored backup to the installation of wind farms, where the vagaries of the wind are backed by the ability to use natural gas when needed.

There are, however, considerable concerns about the ability of wells in the gas shale to produce to the targets that are being set up. I first noted Arthur Berman’s concern about this back in 2007 when I drew attention to a piece he had written in World Oil, where he noted the short life of most of the gas-producing wells; the very high costs for the wells and technology required to create them and, as a result, that only 28% of them return a reasonable profit. (Unfortunately the article itself is now behind a paywall).

Since then I returned to the topic at Bit Tooth showing, among other data, the very high decline rate (now 60%) of many of the gas wells in Texas (where the Barnett shale is) that Swindell has reported.