For the past two decades, the growing demand for energy in the U.S. has exceeded domestic supplies of crude oil and natural gas. Simply put, U.S. consumers are using more energy than can be supplied with domestically produced oil and natural gas, so as a result, we have increased our imports of these products. The U.S. imports natural gas primarily from Mexico, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and crude oil primarily from OPEC countries.
There are many negatives to this trend, but two stand out: as a nation, we have become increasingly dependent on foreign energy supplies that are potentially unstable, and the prices that we pay have soared.
Of course, environmental concerns have curbed the production of oil and gas in many parts of the U.S. While the debate concerning environmental protection continues, the fact remains that domestic supplies of crude oil and natural gas are still not keeping up with the demand.
Thankfully, natural gas production in the U.S. began increasing in 2006, and this is due to the so-called “unconventional” sources of natural gas, one of the most important being the Barnett Shale.
Think about it: Some 18 or so counties in North Texas are helping the entire U.S. become more energy independent by increasing our total reserves of natural gas. And this from an area of the country that was considered “pumped out” of oil and gas long ago!
Covering more than 5,000 square miles, the Barnett Shale region is the largest natural gas field in Texas and one of the largest in the U.S.. It yields more than 12 percent of the natural gas produced in Texas and 5 percent of the total natural gas used in the U.S..
Better yet, exploration and production in the Barnett Shale has only just begun. It will take many years to drill the best-producing areas and as technology improves, less productive areas will also be drilled. Indeed, production in the Barnett Shale is expected to at least double over the next decade. Engineers and geologists believe that the wells being drilled in the Barnett Shale will produce for 20 to 30 years and possibly even longer as technologies continue to improve.
The Barnett Shale’s contribution to the domestic energy picture goes beyond natural gas production. New technologies in drilling – primarily water fracturing (or “fracing” and improved horizontal drilling techniques – are being tested and refined right here in North Texas. What is learned here will impact natural gas production in other shale regions in the U.S. for decades to come. These include the Fayetteville Shale in Arkansas and the enormous Marcellus Shale, covering some 54,000 miles across several Eastern states, where exploration and drilling are underway. It is fair to say that the Barnett Shale and similar sources of domestically produced natural gas are no longer “unconventional”. They are in fact becoming the new conventional sources of natural gas and they offer the potential for the U.S. to become more energy self-sufficient. The Barnett Shale is truly a bounty from below that is transforming the economy of North Texas and helping to reshape the energy picture in the U.S.
Ed Ireland, Ph.D. is executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, aconsortium of eight of the leading energy companies operating in the Barnett Shale that are dedicated to promoting energy education and best practices as it relates to oil and gas leasing, drilling, production, transportation and marketing in the Barnett Shale. For more information, please visit www.bseec.org.