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Brilliant Slate article debunks industry claim of 100 year natgas supply

January 5, 2012

Recoverable fracked gas may supply U.S. for 21 years, or as little as ten years

When I attended a venture capitalist conference last year in Philadelphia, financial advisors urged investment in shale gas for the near term only, explicitly defining that as 2 – 5 years. Clearly profits will remain highest only as long as shale gas drilling is done “wild west” style, as it is now: wildly under-regulated, exempt from every federal law that matters and covered by ancient state laws written when unconventional gas drilling was a pipe dream. That’s one of the reasons it’s so urgent to maintain a moratorium in the Delaware River Basin, in New York State, and extend that to win a moratorium in the rest of Pennsylvania. The rush to frack is a rush for short-term profits for the 1%, no matter what kind of rationale that rush is wrapped in.

But the other, less well-known reason that only short-term investment is urged by those in the know is that there’s not nearly as much recoverable gas as the industry wants everyone to believe. The “game-changer” claims by the industry, which frequently repeats (they’re so good at frequently repeating!) there’s 100 years’ worth of natural gas to be fracked in the U.S., are brilliantly debunked by a must-read article on Slate:

In “What the Frack? Is there really 100 years’ worth of natural gas beneath the United States?” (1/29/11) Chris Nelder writes,

The data, however, tell a very different story. Between the demonstrable gas reserves, and the potential resources blared in the headlines, lies an enormous gulf of uncertainty…

By the same logic, you can claim to be a multibillionaire, including all your “probable, possible, and speculative resources.”

Assuming that the United States continues to use about 24 tcf per annum, then, only an 11-year supply of natural gas is certain. The other 89 years’ worth has not yet been shown to exist or to be recoverable.

Even that comparably modest estimate of 11 years’ supply may be optimistic. Those 273 tcf are located in reserves that are undrilled, but are adjacent to drilled tracts where gas has been produced. Due to large lateral differences in the geology of shale plays, production can vary considerably from adjacent wells.

The EIA uses a different methodology to arrive at its resource calculations, offering a range of estimates. In the most optimistic, “high shale resource case,” it estimates there are 1,230 tcf in the “estimated unproved technically recoverable resource base.” It also offers several production forecasts through 2035, ranging from 827 tcf in their Reference case, to 423 tcf in their Low case—one-fourth the headline number. In the Low case, which certainly could be correct, the EIA says the United States could once again become a net natural-gas importer by 2035.

Please share this important news and don’t let the industry get away with false claims enabling them to rationalize poisoning our water and air while speeding climate crash. We must push for a U-turn in energy policy immediately and avoid being lulled by “business as usual” type arguments.

With greenhouse gas emissions escalating every day, the trick is to radically reduce fossil fuel extraction rather than allow more and more extreme, destructive forms of extraction like high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling. The fracking industry wants us to put blinders back on, sit back, relax, and consume the earth to death. Species extinctions are increasing daily and climate consequences are already felt most painfully in poor countries, so as usual the most vulnerable are those with the least voice.

We can’t say we didn’t know.

One Comment
  1. Nick permalink
    January 5, 2012 9:24 am

    It’s not that brilliant of an article. Many points attempted reveal the lack of specific knowledge of the author in relation to the topic he is trying to discuss.

    I would agree that the 100 yr projection is conjecture..An old adage applies “anything under the ground is at best an estimate”. IF 10-11 years proves to be the “life” of our oil & gas production, THAT alone should be a wake up call to spend money on the practical research AND development needed to evaluate ALL FORMS of energy production, renewable & non-renewable, large and small scale. What do you expect will happen when fossil fuels run out?

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