Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Is Shale Gas The Future?

The dominant narrative re The Shale Gas Revolution is that natural gas can power Western Civilization for the next century if hippies and socialists don't get in the way.   However, lately a bit of a counter-narrative has got going, which suggests that, regardless of the possible environmental fallout associated with fracking and with continuing to burn any variety of fossil fuel, these original claims are overblown, perhaps wildly over blown, perhaps even bordering  on bullshit:

It is looking highly likely that once again the public will get the short end of the stick in a few years as the supply of gas from these shale formations runs out much faster than estimates, leaving the public with a large glut of natural gas fueled cars and trucks and natural gas fueling stations, all of which were built on the promise of 100+ years of supply at cheap prices and the dream of energy independence. As this surplus demand infrastructure is built out and as supplies run out quicker than expected, prices will naturally rise dramatically.

The production levels drop dramatically after the first 20 months on the majority of shale wells and a huge amount of wells have been drilled over the past 5 years so the ability to find high producing wells will diminish quickly and the ones that have already been drilled will be producing far lower supplies. The natural gas market should begin to feel this constraint over the next three to 12 months. Consumers will be stuck with natural gas cars that cost more to fuel than cars that take unleaded gas and they will be left with home heating bills that will be skyrocketing. Add to this the potential reduction in supplies from exporting liquid natural gas to foreign markets by 2015 and we could see a massive bull market in natural gas.

A little melodramatic?  Maybe.  But the problem--how quickly does the natural gas in a typical well run out--while just now coming to the attention of the wider public, has been the subject of debate within industry circles for a number of years.  From 2010:

 The US, Europe, and now China are making huge investments in switching from coal-fired power to gas-fired power, and if there isn’t enough gas at a low enough price, they have a problem.

For example, if the pessimists/exponentials are right, then the ultimately recovered gas reserves from, say, the Haynesville deposits in Louisiana and Texas could be closer to 2bn cu ft for the average well, rather than the 6 bcf some operators project. If so, then the wells on most of their land would need a gas price that is at least twice, and perhaps three times, what is on offer in the spot and futures markets.

 Unfortunately, the pessimists seem to be carrying the day.

1 comment:

Jay Alt said...

Myhrvold & Caldeira Mar 2012 ERL
Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change and the transition from coal to low-carbon electricity (esp fig 2)

from abstract:
Conservation, wind, solar, nuclear power, and possibly carbon capture and storage appear to be able to achieve substantial climate benefits in the second half of this century; however, natural gas cannot.