UT Natural Gas Study: The Boom Isn’t Over

As the natural gas boom continues in hotspots like North Dakota and Pennsylvania—and draws criticism from environmentalists—UT has released a study on the Barnett Shale, the 5,000-square-mile gas field in North Texas. The Bureau of Economic Geology study analyzed data from more than 15,000 wells to forecast that the shale will produce gas until at least 2030, and possibly as late as 2050.

The findings come three months after UT Energy Institute director Charles Groat retired in the wake of a conflict-of-interest scandal that drew national attention to the Forty Acres. Groat failed to disclose that he was a paid board member of a drilling company, and an independent review reported serious flaws in his study, which found no link between fracking and groundwater contamination.

UT has disclosed that Scott Tinker, lead researcher on the Bureau of Economic Geology study, is a paid advisor for energy giant BP, while two other researchers hold stock in oil companies.

The new study, which yielded five research papers currently under review at peer-reviewed journals, was led by Bureau of Economic Geology director Tinker, energy economist and co-principal investigator Svetlana Ikonnikova, and a bevy of other researchers. Ikonnikova spoke with the Alcalde about why her team’s research matters.

What were your main findings?

The key finding is that even at low prices, you still have a lot of gas coming. We found that in Barnett, the wells drilled through 2030 will by the end of their life—in 2050—have produced twice as much as they have produced already.

What is unique about this study?

First, it is the most comprehensive study on this topic that we know of. Most other studies are top-to-bottom, making inferences based on several observations. Our study was bottom-up. We looked at every well drilled in Barnett and used specific data.

It is also one of the most interdisciplinary studies. Geologists, economists, and engineers all worked together and gained ideas from that contact. In every discipline, we were able to produce a paper with something new.

Research related to natural gas and the controversial technique used to extract it, fracking, has been highly political. Is this study truly nonpartisan?

This study did not look at fracking at all. But one of our goals was to bring people clarity on how much resource there is and what outlook we have for the future. Our research was sponsored by the Sloan Foundation, which is not industry, not government, not pro-fracking or anti-fracking. It’s an independent and thorough view on what’s in there.

What are the study’s implications for the future of natural gas?

The study is really good for planning for the future. We can show an example of what to expect at this scale, and the Marcellus Shale is on an even bigger scale. So it prepares people to see problems and opportunities.

A gas rig near Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Photo by Steve R. on Flickr.



Post a Comment