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The Successful Development of Shale Gas Resources in the United States

Daniel J. Soeder
U.S. Department of Energy, Morgantown, WV 26507 [email protected]

In response to the price hikes and fuel shortages caused by the 1973-1974 oil embargo, the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration initiated a number of efforts, including the Eastern Gas Shales Project (EGSP), to solve the “energy crisis” by developing new, domestic sources of oil and natural gas. The goals of the EGSP when studies began in 1975 were to assess the resource base and develop technology to overcome the challenges of recovering natural gas from organic-rich, Devonian-age shales in the eastern United States. This program became the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) when it was created in August 1977.

The major components of the EGSP were resource characterization and inventory, the development of more effective extraction technology, and the transfer of that technology to industry. From 1976 to 1982, the EGSP used cooperative agreements with drillers to collect and characterize oriented core from 44 wells targeting a variety of Devonian shales in the Michigan, Illinois, and Appalachian Basins. Marcellus Shale core from an EGSP well in West Virginia was analyzed for DOE by the Institute of Gas Technology in 1986, with results suggesting that the Marcellus was capable of containing much more gas than had been previously estimated by the National Petroleum Council. Also in 1986, a horizontal well drilled by DOE in the Huron Shale tested many of the concepts that would later become part of the technology.

Shale gas development awaited improvements in production techniques. Mitchell Energy had been experimenting on the Barnett Shale in the Fort Worth Basin since the early 1980s, achieving success in 1997 from horizontal wells using offshore directional drilling technology and staged hydraulic fracturing. Field results convinced Mitchell that light sand fracs and slickwater fracs were the most effective completion methods on gas shale, and the Barnett Shale gas play began in the early 2000s. The Fayetteville and Haynesville Shales in Arkansas and Louisiana were recognized as sharing many of the same characteristics as the Barnett Shale, leading to the subsequent development of these formations a few years later.

Range Resources drilled the Renz #1 well in Pennsylvania in 2005 to test Silurian prospects. The target unit had poor gas shows, but evidence of gas in the overlying Marcellus Shale led Range to review the old DOE reports on shale gas. Renz #1 was recompleted with a hydraulic fracture in the Marcellus, and returned substantial initial production. Thus encouraged, Range adapted the Mitchell Energy completion procedures to the Marcellus. After a number of failed attempts, the Gulla #9 well was completed horizontally with an initial production of nearly 5 million cubic feet per day. Other Marcellus wells soon followed, developing the play remarkably within five years.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90154©2012 AAPG Eastern Section Meeting, Cleveland, Ohio, 22-26 September 2012