Natural Gas Revolution Is Overblown, Study Says
Posted: 05/12/11 12:35 PM ET
A veritable explosion in the number of natural gas wells in the United States in the late 2000's resulted in only modest gains in production, a new study finds, suggesting that the promise of natural gas as a bountiful and economical domestic fuel source has been wildly oversold.
The findings, part of a broader analysis of natural gas published Thursday by the Post Carbon Institute, an energy and climate research organization in California, is one of a growing number of studies to undermine a natural gas catechism that has united industry, environmental groups and even the Obama White House in recent years.
It also comes on the heels of another study, published Monday, lending credence to claims that modern natural gas drilling techniques are contributing to methane contamination of drinking water wells in surrounding communities.
According to the author of Thursday's study, David Hughes, a geoscientist and fellow at the institute, the bedrock assumptions of the natural gas revolution -- that new drilling techniques have cracked open deep layers of shale and made available a 100-year supply of clean, domestic energy that could displace dirty coal and oil -- are simply not true.
"The real takeaway here is scale," Hughes said in a telephone interview. "If you look at the production estimates as the government is making them now, you're talking about a near quadrupling of shale gas by 2035."
The estimates come from the Energy Information Administration, which suggested in its most recent projections that shale gas would account for 45 percent of all natural gas production in the U.S. by 2035 -- up from roughly 14 percent currently.
But the actual productivity profile of new, unconventional wells -- often tapped at tremendous expense -- is far less clear than is normally portrayed, Hughes said. Studies at existing fields, or plays, suggest that many shale wells tend to be highly productive in their first year, and then decline steeply -- sometimes by as much as 80 percent or more -- after that, requiring new wells to be plumbed.