47th Annual AAPG-SPE Eastern Section Joint Meeting

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Growth in Appalachia region hydrocarbon production driven by drilling efficiency. U.S. EIA expects plays in the East to lead production of domestic natural gas from shale resources


Shale gas production in the Appalachia region has increased rapidly since 2012, driving an overall increase in U.S. natural gas production. According to EIA’s Drilling Productivity Report, natural gas production in the Appalachia region—namely the Marcellus and Utica shale plays—has increased by more than 15 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) since 2012. Overall Appalachian natural gas production grew from 7.8 Bcf/d in 2012 to 22.1 Bcf/d in 2016 and was 24.0 Bcf/d in 2017, based on EIA data. Drilling wells in the Appalachia region has become very productive. EIA attributes this increase to efficiency improvements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the region, which include faster drilling, longer laterals, advancements in technology, and better targeting of wells. For example, in West Virginia, the average lateral length per well has increased from about 2,500 feet in 2007 to more than 9,000 feet in 2017. Some operators have recorded lateral lengths as long as 18,000 feet in the Marcellus and 19,000 feet in the Utica. Along with longer horizontal drilling, the days it takes for completion have decreased from about 30 days in 2011 to 4 days in 2017. Dry natural gas production from shale gas plays in February 2018 accounted for 50.6 Bcf/d, or 64% of total U.S. natural gas production. Natural gas production from shale plays is expected to increase through 2040 in EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2017 Reference case. The two Appalachian shale plays, the Marcellus and Utica/Point Pleasant, have factors favorable for production including proximity to consuming markets. Both Appalachian shale plays have remained resilient to the low natural gas prices and are projected to continue to drive total U.S. production in the long term. Dry natural gas production in these plays is expected to reach more than 40 Bcf/d by 2040, providing just over half of U.S. total shale gas production. EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook is forecasting further growth in the Appalachia region through the rest of 2018. Natural gas processing capacity is also expected to increase by 2.5 Bcf/d over the next two years to support the continued growth in production. Rising natural gas and natural gas liquids production in Appalachia—Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia—has transformed this U.S. region’s importance as a key supplier and a potential market for these energy commodities.