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New Tech Behind Gas Boost

Advances in drilling technology are behind a 20% boost in the amount of natural gas recoverable from future well locations in the nation’s major shale plays, according to an analysis led by The University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology released in December 2018.

The analysis, which takes into account ongoing drilling that is using up natural gas reserves, is an update on a similar study led by the bureau from 2011 to 2014, which was the most comprehensive report on unconventional resources publicly available at the time.

Svetlana Ikonnikova, the principal investigator of the study and a research scientist at the bureau, said that developments in drilling technologies, market conditions, cost structures and improvement in geological characterization prompted the research team to update the assessment.

“Five years ago, we hardly thought of multilayer or stacked-well drilling, or of quadrupling lateral well length,” she said, referring to drilling innovations that have expanded production. The analysis looked into the production capabilities and the total gas in place at four of the country’s top natural gas fields: the Barnett, Fayetteville, Haynesville and Marcellus plays. The team used 3D modeling and advanced data analytics to enhance the understanding of:

  • Geologic reservoir characterization;
  • Individual well decline and recovery analysis;
  • Individual well geology and engineering improvements that increase productivity; and,
  • Economically recoverable resource assessment.

The researchers found that future wells in the four shale gas plays can technically recover about 780 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas, in addition to about 110 Tcf of gas already recovered by wells drilled by the end 2017. (“Technically recoverable” gas can be produced using currently available technology and industry practices.) That estimate was about 650 Tcf in the prior study. The United States consumed about 27 Tcf of natural gas in 2017. So, the new estimate suggests the addition of about five years of domestic consumption.

In the study, for the base case scenario, researchers assumed a natural gas price of $3.25 per million British thermal units and an oil price of $65 per barrel.

Even with the boost in production, the analysis shows production will plateau around 2030, barring a more dramatic price increase or boost in technology.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory.