A new study has cast serious doubt on whether the much-ballyhooed U.S. shale oil and gas revolution has long-term staying power.
The U.S. produced 8.5 million barrels of oil per day in July of this year — 60 percent more than just three years earlier. That is also the highest rate of production in three decades.
Put another way, since 2011, the U.S. has added 3 million barrels per day in additional capacity to global supplies. Had that volume not come online, oil prices would surely be much higher than they currently are.
That has “revolutionized” the energy industry and geopolitics, as scores of energy analysts have claimed. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that U.S. oil production will hit 9.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, and gradually decline to 7.5 million bpd by 2040.
This would allow the U.S. to be one of the world’s top oil producers for an extended period of time. With such an achievement now at hand, many analysts are predicting an era of American dominance in geopolitics. For example, in an op-ed on Oct. 20, columnist Joe Nocera considered a “world without OPEC,” in which U.S. oil production soon kills off the oil cartel.
Or consider this rather triumphalist piece in Foreign Affairs from earlier this year, where two former National Security Council members who worked under President George W. Bush boasted that the recent surge in oil production “should help put to rest declinist thinking” and “sharpen the instruments of U.S. statecraft.” In the following issue, Ed Morse of Citibank went further. “Despite its doubters and haters, the shale revolution in oil and gas production is here to stay,” he declared.
But a new report throws cold water on the thinking that U.S. shale production will be around for the long haul. The Post Carbon Institute conducted an analysis of the top seven oil and top seven natural gas plays, which together account for 89 percent of current shale oil production and 88 percent of shale gas production.
The report found that both shale oil and shale gas production will peak before 2020. More importantly, the report’s author, David Hughes, says oil production will decline much more quickly than the EIA has predicted.
That’s largely because of high decline rates at shale wells across the country. Unlike conventional wells, which can produce relatively stable rates for a long period of time, shale oil and gas wells experience an initial burst of production in the first few years, followed by a precipitous decline thereafter.
Hughes estimates that the average shale oil well declines at a rate of between 60 and 91 percent over three years. Wells in the Bakken decline by 45 percent per year, which stands in stark contrast to the 5 percent annual decline for an average conventional well.
Or put another way, oil and gas companies will have to keep drilling at a feverish pace just to stand still. This means the industry is on a “drilling treadmill” that will be unsustainable over the long-term.
Predicting what oil production will be in 25 years is difficult, to say the least, but the Post Carbon report projects that oil production from the Bakken and Eagle Ford will be just one-tenth of the level that EIA is forecasting. The EIA predicts that the Bakken and the Eagle Ford will be producing a combined 1 million bpd in 2040. Hughes thinks it will be just a small fraction of that amount – a mere 73,000 bpd.
This is not the first time that David Hughes has taken aim at EIA data. In a December 2013 report, he skewered the high estimates for the potential of the Monterrey Shale in California, calling the EIA’s numbers “simplistic and highly overstated.” Several months later, the EIA was forced to back track on its figures, downgrading the recoverable oil estimates in the Monterrey by 96 percent.
Hughes says the implications of getting it wrong are “profound,” since so many companies are basing very large investments on incorrect projections. He says rosy estimates have cut into investment for renewables, while steering capital towards expensive oil and gas export terminals that should now be called into question.
An article in CleanTechnica points to the possibility of boom towns turning into “ghost towns” if the pace of drilling drops off. If David Hughes and The Post Carbon Institute are correct, there could be quite a few ghost towns popping up in the coming years as the shale revolution begins to fizzle.
Source and Full Report Here
The Utica Shale contains about 38 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas (at the mean estimate) according to the first assessment of this continuous (unconventional) natural gas accumulation by the U. S. Geological Survey.
The Utica Shale has a mean of 940 million barrels of unconventional oil resources and a mean of 9 million barrels of unconventional natural gas liquids.
The Utica Shale lies beneath the Marcellus Shale, and both are part of the Appalachian Basin, which is the longest-producing petroleum province in the United States. The Marcellus Shale, at 84 TCF of natural gas, is the largest unconventional gas basin USGS has assessed. This is followed closely by the Greater Green River Basin in southwestern Wyoming, which has 84 TCF of undiscovered natural gas, of which 82 TCF is continuous (tight gas).
“Understanding our domestic oil and gas resource potential is important, which is why we assess emerging plays like the Utica, as well as areas that have been in production for some time” said Brenda Pierce, USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator. “Publicly available information about undiscovered oil and gas resources can aid policy makers and resource managers, and inform the debate about resource development.”
The Utica Shale assessment covered areas in Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Some shale rock formations, like the Utica and Marcellus, can be source rocks – those formations from which hydrocarbons, such as oil and gas, originate. Conventional oil and gas resources gradually migrate away from the source rock into other formations and traps, whereas continuous resources, such as shale oil and shale gas, remain trapped within the original source rock.
These new estimates are for technically recoverable oil and gas resources, which are those quantities of oil and gas producible using currently available technology and industry practices, regardless of economic or accessibility considerations.
This USGS assessment is an estimate of continuous oil, gas, and natural gas liquid accumulations in the Upper Ordovician Utica Shale of the Appalachian Basin. The estimate of undiscovered oil ranges from 590 million barrels to 1.39 billion barrels (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively), natural gas ranges from 21 to 61 TCF (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively), and the estimate of natural gas liquids ranges from 4 to 16 million barrels (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively).
USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources of onshore lands and offshore state waters. The USGS Utica Shale assessment was undertaken as part of a nationwide project assessing domestic petroleum basins using standardized methodology and protocol.