US Shale Gas - A Key to Energy Security

Over the last 15 years through 2008, US consumption of natural gas has been essentially flat, oscillating around 60-63 bcfd, while production has slowly increased from 53-59 bcfd. The future outlook, however, indicates demand is expected to climb as much as 50% by 2020, mainly due to a policy switch-over to natural gas for electricity power generation and for NGVs. Unconventionals – tight sands gas, coal bed methane and shale gas – which now account for more than half of US production is the key to production growth. Conventional gas production has been on a steady decline since its peak of 60 bcfd in the early 1970s; today it is 25 bcfd and should drop to 13 bcfd by 2020.

How much gas production can grow is a fundamental issue which all depends on reserves development, particularly shale gas reserves. Production of both tight sands gas and coal bed methane has been essentially leveling off after 25 years of development; current production is 17 bcfd and 5 bcfd, respectively. Shale gas production was the last of the three unconventionals to get going – in the mid 1990s – but is already at 9 bcfd and expected (EIA) to grow to 20 bcfd by 2020. Six major shale gas plays – Haynesville, Marcellus, Barnett, Fayetteville, Woodford and Deep Bossier – have been recently reassessed and are in the process of development, thanks to advances in drilling, completion and hydraulic fracture technologies. Fracture technology is critical to the successful exploitation of shale gas since these deposits are as impermeable as concrete.

These six major shale plays have proven reserves of 240 tcf with a combined production potential of 27 bcfd (OGJ/Jan. 26, ’09). A recent assessment by the Potential Gas Committee (OGJ/June 18, ’09) indicates a figure of 616 tcf for the technically recoverable reserves of US shale gas. According to their definition, this includes proven, probable, possible and speculative resources. The comparable estimate of the Gas Technology Institute is 780 tcf. Shale gas reserves come with an added bonus: they have a relatively high liquid (NGL) content of 50-125 million barrels per tcf!

This prize awaits progress on several fronts, among which are improvements in recovery factors, water management and wellhead prices. Recoveries are less than 10%; frac jobs require as much as 5 million gallons of water which together with flowback must be handled in an environmentally friendly manner.

The alternative would be to increase imports sometimes from somewhat less than friendly sources.

For more of Dr Rafael Sandrea’s work on global oil and gas resources see: An In-Depth View of Future World Oil & Gas Supply - A Quantitative Model which is available online through

Click here for Dr. Sandrea's full bio.


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