StateImpact Texas has published a series of good articles about the growing evidence that the huge quantities of wastewater being injected in the Barnett Shale field are causing earthquakes — some of sufficient intensity to cause significant damages. Lawsuits have been filed in Johnson County to recover for the damage. StateImpact’s most recent article can be found here. Links to all of StateImpact’s articles on earthquakes caused by oil and gas activity are here.
I have recently seen articles predicting the end of the shale boom, coming not only from those who have consistently predicted that shale production would never amount to anything, but also from respected sources whose predictions have previously proven accurate. A recent Houston Chronicle article quotes from a paper written by Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director for energy and sustainability at the University of California, Davis, and Mahmoud El-Gamal of Rice University, saying that “The most likely scenario – absent war – is for oil prices to decline significantly.” A significant decline in oil prices would make many if not most wells shale wells now being drilled in the Eagle Ford and Permian areas of Texas uneconomical. Jaffe expects oil prices to decline in the next three to five years. “To hold up prices it would have to be a regime change in several countries that results in lasting civil wars with lots of infrastructure being blown up,” she said.
An article in Business Week says that the break-even price for profitability in the Cline Shale play of the Permian Basin is $96 per barrell; in the Eagle Ford, it’s $78/barrel, and in the Bakken, $84. Here is one analyst’s prediction of future oil prices:
Falling fuel demand is a big part of the prediction. Jaffe believes demand will fall even with continued growth in China and other emerging nations. The average fuel economy for new vehicles in the US is up 4.7 mpg since October 2007. And Americans are driving less. Lower-priced natural gas will replace some of the oil demand. From the Energy Information Administration:
Some big horizontal wells have begun producing in Zavala County from the Buda formation (below the Eagle Ford) that may open up Zavala County for additional wells comparable to the best Eagle Ford Wells. This Hughes well, now having a history of production for a year, shows no sign of letting up:
Here’s another Buda well, completed by Sage Energy:
Here’s a well recently completed by Texas American Resources, headquartered right here in Austin:
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the demand on groundwater from its use to hydraulically fracture wells, and possible contamination of wells by hydraulic fracturing and improper completion of wells.
Air Products and Chemicals is promoting the use of nitrogen foam instead of water in fracking in shallower formations.
A recent article in the New York Times highlights the difference between “oil,” or “owal” as we say in Texas, and the heavy crude oil mined from Canadian tar sands. A major waste product of that mining is coke. The tarry substance mined in Canada goes through an initial refining process to separate the crude from tarlike bitumen, caled “coking.” The tarry solid left from the process is called coke. It can be burned, and is an essential ingredient in making steel. The coke created from Canadian tar sands has a high sulfur content. Some of the Canadian tar sands are now being coked in a refinery in Detroit owned by Marathon Petroleum, and the coke by-product is sold to Koch Carbon, owned by Charles and David Koch. (I’m not making this up.) The Koch brothers have recently been in the news for considering an offer to buy the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. They are also famous for supporting conservative and libertarian political causes.
Here is the picture from the NYT article showing the stockpile of coke along the Detroit River belonging to the Kochs:
The crude oil generated by the coking process is the oil that is supposed to go through the Keystone pipeline running from Canada to the Texas coast, if that pipeline ever gets regulatory approval. According to the NYT article, Canada has 79.8 million tons of coke stockpiled. Efforts are underway to export Canadian coke to China and Mexico as a fuel. California, which also produces heavy crude that has to be coked, exports about 128,000 barrels of coke per day, mostly to China. The EPA does not permit it to be burned in the US. The Oxbow Corporation, owned by William I. Koch (a brother of David and Charles), is one of the world’s larges dealers in petroleum coke, selling about 11 million tons a year.
A study written by J. David Hughes and published in February by the Post Carbon Institute claims that shale gas reserves are vastly overstated. “Drill Baby Drill – Can Unconventional Fuels Usher In a New Era of Energy Abundance?” A companion article by Deborah Rogers claims that the shale “frenzy” is a Wall-Street-created bubble, that “U.S. shale gas and shale oil reserves have been overestimated by a minimum of 100% and by as much as 400-500% by operators according to actual well production data filed in various states,” and that “shale oil wells are following the same steep decline rates and poor recovery efficiency observed in shale gas wells.” “Shale and Wall Street: Was the Decline in Natural Gas Prices Orchestrated?” Both are published on a website called shalebubble.org. These nay-sayers are continuing a tradition that has followed the oil and gas industry for decades – the debate between the peak-oil advocates and those who believe we will never run out of fossil fuels.
David Hughes’ study is worth reading. He studied more than 60,000 shale wells in the US and their rates of decline, costs and reserves. Hughes concludes that more than 1,542 wells will have to be drilled each year in the Bakken and Eagle Ford plays just to maintain current production, at a cost of $14 billion per year. He estimates that it will take $42 billion and more than 7,000 wells per year to maintain current levels of production of shale gas, whereas the value of the gas produced in 2012 was only $32.5 billion. Some examples from Hughes’ study:
On overly optimistic predictions by the Energy Information Administration:
A recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle makes a good point: we should no longer think of “oil and gas” together. Their paths have diverged, at least in the US.
The prices of oil and gas used to be roughly equivalent, based on their energy value – their Btu content. But since the shale revolution in the US, this is no longer the case. Today, gas is much cheaper than oil on an energy-equivalent basis. Today, most exploration companies have moved from gas shale plays to oil shale plays, chasing the higher oil price. But gas prices have recently risen, and wells are still being drilled profitably in the Marcellus. If gas returns to $5-6/mcf, shale gas plays will return, and gas will still be much cheaper than oil.
Second, gas is a clean-buring fuel, unlike oil or coal. US emissions of greenhouse gases have declined substantially since utilities have gradually switched from coal to gas. Vehicles powered by gas have much lower emissions than those fueled by gasoline. Gas is touted as a “bridge fuel” in the transition from hydrocarbon to renewable sources of energy, because of its lighter environmental footprint.
Information below passed on to me by a client, from a friend of a friend:
Following are charts and photos of a tour of Cline Shale exploration and operations yesterday afternoon. I remember the boom in the 50s and the late 70s. Those are minimal compared to the massive and very expensive boom taking place right now. I never imagined anything like this.
For instance, there are no small operators involved. Everyone leasing, building, drilling and operating has to be a major with very deep pockets. The road you will see in the first photo cost over $1 million to build. The wells are hitting 9,000 feet in this area and much deeper in other places. Each hydraulic fracturing operation (fracking) uses more than 5 million gallons of water. In just this area, railroad sidings have been built in Miles, San Angelo and Barnhart to unload sand and load oil. The railroad trains in San Angelo used to consist of a few dozen cars a week and now consist of 500 cars a day. And, really, this is just getting started.
I recently read this astounding report from the Texas Tribune:
“In 2011, Texas used a greater number of barrels of water for oil and natural gas fracking (about 632 million) than the number of barrels of oil it produced (about 441 million), according to figures from the Texas Water Development Board and the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s oil and gas regulator.”
Of course wells use all of the water in the fracing process, at the beginning of the well’s life, and continue to produce oil for many years, so oil production will eventually catch up with water use. But this is nevertheless a remarkable statistic.