Proving Up Marcellus Shale is a Good News Story

While politicians debate North American energy policy the markets have chosen natural gas as the fuel of the future. The tremendous growth of unconventional shale gas is insuring that future will take place.

This is not new news, the EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2011 estimated that the US has 2,543 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of potential natural gas resources.  That is about 100 years of gas supply at our average annual rate of consumption. As more drilling and unconventional natural gas E&P activity takes place the data available to assess the potential and proven reserves gets better and is being used by USGS and EIA to validate or revise their estimates.

For example, in its AEO2012 Reference case, EIA’s estimated unproved technically recoverable resource (TRR) of US shale gas has been reduced from 827 TCF to 482 TCF last year.   Critics of unconventional gas claim this is ‘incontrovertible evidence’ that relying on shale gas for the future is a foolish premise. This is nonsense.  The decline mostly reflects changes in the assessment for the Marcellus shale, from 410 TCF to 141 TCF based upon the rapid growth in drilling in the Marcellus over the past two years bringing better data upon which to base projections. As a result Marcellus shale production doubled during 2011.

Based upon better data from drilling activity since 2010, USGS was able to update its technically recoverable resource (TRR) estimate for Marcellus to 84 TCF with a 90% confidence level in a range from 43 to 144 TCF.  In 2002 USGS estimated Marcellus held 2.0 TCF. For its new early release of AEO2012, EIA also estimated that the Utica Shale which run below much of the Marcellus play held 16.0 TCF. These estimates will continue to be modified based upon better data and analysis, but it still is a good news story for domestic energy production and long term natural gas supply reliability.

The good news for the Northeast US is that at the same time coal market share is declining and taking with it the jobs and economic activity that has supported many of the states in this region for generations, now comes cleaner, safer, low cost natural gas in many of the same locations to fill the gap and fuel the next stage of America’s economic growth.