The outlook for the Barnett Shale
The Barnett Shale Energy Education Council (BSEEC) is frequently asked about the status and future of the Barnett Shale. It has been questioned if the Barnett Shale is over and done with. After all, only about 25 drilling rigs are running now compared to the peak of about 200 rigs in mid-2008.
The short answer: While the Barnett Shale drilling activity is down, production remains strong, as do the positive economic benefits of jobs and economic stimulus to the region. Barnett Shale production still ranks in the top three producing fields in the United States and this production generates jobs from lease managers to maintenance engineers to accountants, which in turn generates jobs in retail, restaurants, car and truck sales and so on.
The positive economic impacts of the Barnett Shale region are huge. The city of Fort Worth, Texas, which has been dubbed the shale energy capital, has had the healthiest downtown office market in Texas since the shale boom began seven years ago. With energy companies leading the way, the downtown office occupancy rate has stayed at 93 percent, considerably higher than any other metropolitan area in the state.
Drilling in the Barnett is down because the price of natural gas is much lower than the price of crude oil, so the drilling rigs have moved to where the oil is: the Permian Basin in West Texas, the oil window part of the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.
Make no mistake about it; the Barnett Shale still contains a lot of natural gas. The University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) released an updated look at the Barnett Shale earlier this year in a comprehensive well-by-well analysis. In that study, BEG estimated that the 4,172 square mile area of the Barnett Shale that has been developed holds 44 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of technically recoverable free gas, of which 13 TCF has been produced. More importantly, the BEG study estimated that the Barnett Shale extended area of 8,000 square miles holds 86 TCF of natural gas.
This compares to the 2003 U.S. Geological Survey estimate that the Barnett Shale holds 26 TCF of technically recoverable natural gas. Since 13 TCF has already been produced out of the Barnett, the USGS estimate suggests that only half of the Barnett Shale natural gas remains while the BEG study says that there is almost six times more natural gas remaining than has been produced.
Increasingly optimistic estimates of the volume of shale gas and oil reserves in the United States are now common as more knowledge is gained about the many shale deposits in the nation. This is why "The Oil Drum," a peak oil and gas website, announced it would close its website on July 31 after eight years in existence. The website said it was closing primarily due to the "scarcity of new content caused by a dwindling number of contributors," but the surge in unconventional oil production has contradicted the "peak oil" theory's premise that the world has a finite supply of oil that is rapidly running out.
The bottom line is that the Barnett Shale has a lot of natural gas yet to be drilled and produced. This will happen when prices go above $4 per thousand cubic feet (MCF), according to the base case in the BEG study. Some analysts believe that prices of over $5 per MCF will be necessary for a vigorous resurgence of drilling to resume. When that will happen is subject to debate, but the continued shift to natural gas-fired electricity from coal is hastening that development.