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How to reap the rewards of the shale gas boom

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Alex Brandon/AP/File

(Read caption) A drilling rig is set up near a barn in Springville, Pa., to tap gas from the giant Marcellus Shale gas field.

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In the early part of 2008, I began delving into the big story of the day in North Texas and Dallas, the prolific activity from the recovery of natural gas in the Barnett Shale. At the time, other shale plays were being explored as well, such as the Fayetteville play that confirmed the Barnett’s results; the Marcellus was just being sized up. I was challenged with attempting to figure out how to communicate what shale could be physically described as — in essence, a dead ocean from a geologic perspective.

Three things came together that gave tailwinds to today’s “shale revolution.” One was that the government stepped out of the way after many decades of nearly regulating natural gas out of existence. It had created artificially low gas prices, which killed production and confidence in the market until the 1980s and ’90s. The second force was the entrepreneurial spirit in oil and gas exploration, which presides in Texas. A powerhouse of expertise exists here, and these newfound unconventional gas production techniques and know-how spread to the rest of the country and the world. For producers, it was their Google moment.

And finally, technological advances in drilling technology —hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling— combined in the Barnett with independent producers’ experimentation, the innovators like Trevor Rees-Jones of Chief Oil and Mitchell Energy. Their efforts, and those of other operators in the 1980s and ’90s, paved the way for the U.S. gas revolution and its ripple effects across the globe. It was the right combination of economics, opportunity and efforts coming together. 

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