Friday, August 6, 2010

Barnett Horizontal Shale Gas Production Holds Steady

There is good news from where horizontal drilling and shale gas production was perfected, The Barnett Shale of north Texas. Even though there has been a dramatic decline in drilling activity because of lower gas prices, the production level of the existing and the few new wells appears to be holding steady. I interepret this as good news for the Barnett Shale and good news for all the similar shale gas plays such as the Haynesville, Fayetteville, and Marcellus Shales. Hopefully once these wells are drilled into the optimum stratigraphic location, properly fracture-stimulated and completed, they continue producing at substantial rates for a prolonged period. These are positive economic signals and something we're all concerned about. (Source) From the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Prices, Investment, and Drilling Technology Drive Barnett Shale Production Growth.

Despite a sharp decline in Henry Hub spot prices from the levels reached in the summer of 2008, natural gas production in the Barnett shale in Texas continued to climb through the middle of 2009 and appears to have reached an undulating plateau since then. Production growth in the Barnett shale comes from several large natural gas producers who continued to maintain strong production even in an environment of relatively low natural gas prices (see Figure).

During 2005-2008, growth in the Barnett shale production was driven by high natural gas prices, successful application of horizontal drilling, and hydraulic fracturing, as well as significant investments made by natural gas companies in production assets and state-of-the-art technology. When natural gas prices declined sharply in the second half of 2008, the momentum in production growth continued, in part because of the 3-6 month lag generally observed between changes in prices and a production response. As natural gas prices continued to decline in 2009, so did the number of drilling rigs. However, despite more than a 60 percent reduction in the number of drilling rigs from the peak levels in 2007-08, production in the Barnett shale remained high due to several factors:

  • Increased per-unit production output as a result of improved production efficiencies from horizontal drilling (which allows multiple horizontal wells to be drilled from a single rig) and an improved understanding of how natural gas is produced from this formation.
  • Large operators hedged a significant portion of their natural gas production on the futures market when natural gas prices were higher.
  • Significant capital investments in acquiring technologies, leases, etc., combined with the resultant large debt, required continuous production so operators could service the debt.
  • Contractual lease obligations require operators to continue drilling or risk losing leases.
  • High initial production rates in the Barnett shale wells decreased the number of drilling rigs required to maintain and even to increase natural gas production output.


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