U.S. Natural Gas Resources Hit Record Levels

May 2013, Vol. 240, No. 5

Michael Reed, Managing Editor

The United States closed out 2012 with a technically recoverable natural gas resource potential of 2,384 Tcf – the nation’s highest level during the 48 year history of the nonprofit Potential Gas Committee’s (PGC) biennial report.

Released in coordination with the American Gas Association (AGA), the report, titled Potential Supply of Natural Gas, showed recoverable resources surpassed the previously high level recorded in 2010 by 26%, or 486 Tcf. Most of the growth can be attributed to new evaluations of shale gas resources in the Atlantic, Rocky Mountain, Gulf Coast regions, the data showed.

“Technically recoverable resource” is defined as the amount of gas expected to be eventually recoverable using existing technology. This includes probable, possible and speculative resources.

“This ground up, science-based assessment emphasizes our nation’s robust supply of natural gas, and confirms that we can continue to rely on abundant, clean natural gas for our future energy needs,” said Dave McCurdy, AGA president and CEO. “By investing in our energy future and harnessing the promises of this resource, we can look forward to decades of market stability – and that’s great news for our customers.”

When the PGC’s results are combined with the U.S. Department of Energy’s latest available data for proved dry-gas reserves – 304.6 Tcf as of year-end 2010 – the U.S. has a total available future supply of 2,688.5 Tcf, according to AGA analysts.

In 2012, the U.S. consumed about 25.5 Tcf of natural gas, according to the EIA.

The Atlantic region, which includes the Marcellus Shale, is estimated by PGC to hold the greatest amount of potential resources – almost one-third of the total – at 741.32 Tcf; the Gulf Coast region, including a part of Texas, all of Louisiana and a large portion of the Gulf, is second at 521.03 Tcf. The Rocky Mountain region follows at 421.3 Tcf.

The stunning 110% increase of 384.72 Bcf in the Atlantic region vs. its 2010 total was attributed “almost entirely to re-evaluation of the Appalachian shale gases – primarily the Marcellus.” However, that total also included the Utica Shale, which was assessed by PGC for the first time. Meanwhile, PGC said the Gulf Coast re-evaluation showed a modest 2% increase that was said to “mask the lower assessments for shallow conventional and tight resources” in the East Texas and Texas Gulf Coast basins, and for the Haynesville Shale.

The encouraging showing for the Rockies region, which rose by 77,310 Bcf, an increase of 22% from 2010, was attributed largely to new evaluations of shales – Baxter and Hilliard – and other tight formations – Almond and Lance-Mesaverde – in the Greater Green River Basin.

The year-end shale gas assessment of 1.07 Tcf “most likely” value represented a 386.41 Tcf (56%) over year-end 2010. Meanwhile, PGC’s coalbed gas assessment to close out 2012 of 158.24 Tcf represented a decline of 360 Bcf (0.2%) since 2010.

The future supply of domestic natural gas continues to grow due to the emergence of key technologies that are able to unlock gas production from reservoirs such as shale formations. For the next decade and beyond, domestic natural gas supplies are expected to be high enough to support an increase in demand across all sectors – unlocking the door for expansion in residential, business, transportation, commercial and industrial applications, the AGA said.

“The PGC’s year-end 2012 assessment reaffirms the committee’s conviction that abundant, recoverable natural gas resources exist within our borders, both onshore and offshore, and in all types of reservoirs – from conventional, ‘tight’ and shales, to coals,” said John B. Curtis, professor of Geology and Geological Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines and director of its Potential Gas Agency, which provides guidance and technical assistance to the PGC.