Vast US Shale Plays Heat Up the Petroleum Job Market

By Phaedra Friend Troy

Shale exploration and development has added thousands of new positions to the line-up

With the ever-improving technologies in both drilling and production, the massive shale plays spanning the continental US and parts of Canada have become a major job source in the oil and gas industry.

“The game-changing development of natural gas supplies in shale regions has great potential to improve the economic well-being of communities across the United States, while providing access to a clean domestic energy source,” said Regina Hopper, America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) president and CEO.

According to the Natural Gas Supply Association, the US natural gas industry supports anywhere from 3 to 4 million direct and indirect jobs.

“With US unemployment figures hovering at 10 percent in early 2010 and state and federal governments desperately seeking revenues, the proliferation of shale development presents the opportunity to create thousands of new jobs, providing a new revenue and tax base for many states currently struggling in the current economic downturn,” reported the association.

Recently, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates forecast that shale gas will make up half of the US natural gas supply in the next 25 years – a major jump from the 20 percent is supports today.

Helping to push shale development, natural gas is considered a clean energy alternative to coal-generated power plants, as well as a transportation solution to gasoline-run vehicles.

Shale Formations Across the US

While shale formations are present the world over, the massive resource potential and industry experience in the US is leading the globe in oil and natural gas shale exploration, development and production.

Currently there are 22 major shale plays in the US, spread across 20 states.

Shale Gas Plays Across the US

Between the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania; the Haynesville, Barnett and Eagle Ford Shales in Texas; the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas; the Niobrara Shale in Wyoming; the Bakken Shale in North Dakota; the Utica Shale in Michigan; the Woodford Shale of Oklahoma; and various other emerging shales across the continental US -- drilling, development, production and transmission positions are booming.

According to the US Department of Energy, the US total oil shale resources could exceed 6 trillion barrels of oil equivalent. Additionally, FERC estimated that there is 742 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas in the US.

Improved Technologies Increase Shale Production

Defined as hydrocarbons locked in fine-grained sedimentary rocks, shale requires improved recovery techniques in order to bring this resource to market.

Historically an unconventional hydrocarbon source, shale exploration and production are becoming more conventional with improved technologies. Directional and horizontal drilling, as well as hydraulic fracturing and various other improved recovery techniques, have greatly increased production from shale plays.

Because of the additional technologies required to produce shales, developing these resources depends greatly on the price of oil and natural gas. While some fields are being produced despite loses to retain leaseholds, a steady and elevated price for these commodities is needed to continue to spur profitable shale production.

Marcellus Shale Boosts Jobs

According to a study conducted by energy professors at Penn State University, the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania is pumping billions of dollars into the state’s economy while providing tens of thousands of jobs.

The report entitled, The Economic Impacts of the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play: An Update, contends that the natural gas present in the Marcellus Shale could be has large as 87 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

While development of the Marcellus Shale is still in its infancy, the number of jobs created from the natural gas play is in the thousands. Furthermore, the state is able to collect billions of dollars in annual revenues.

The development of this shale affects the economy both by business-to-business spending and through royalties paid to landowners.

In 2009 alone, Marcellus Shale producers spent some $4.5 billion to develop these resources and created more than 44,000 jobs. Additionally, the average daily production of Marcellus Shale in 2009 was 327 million cubic feet per day of natural gas equivalents.

Looking forward, the study expects spending on exploration, development and production of the Marcellus Shale to increase to $8 billion in 2010 and $10 billion in 2011, with the number of jobs created by the Marcellus Shale increasing to 88,000 in 2010 and 111,000 in 2011.

Economically Depressed Michigan Catches Shale Fever

Hit by the downfall of the American auto industry, the Michigan economy and job openings may be boosted by shale, as well.

The Great Lakes state sits above the Antrim, Utica, Collingwood and Ellsworth Shale formations. While oil production in Michigan has been steadily decreasing and natural gas production numbers are low, interest in Michigan shale production is heightened.

Helping to spur interest in the Utica Shale in the state, Petoskey Exploration successfully drilled, hydraulically fractured and flared gas from an exploratory well in the northern Michigan Basin earlier this year.

Oil and gas producers have taken notice of the shale opportunity in Michigan. The most-recent Michigan lease sale in May 2010 netted $178 million in leasing fees in one day, which equals the total amount of collected leasing fees in the state since the 1920s.

Additionally, Encana has established a large land position on the emerging shale gas play after its first well in Michigan flowed gas condensate from the Middle Ordovician Collingwood Shale and Utica Shale.

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