Natural-gas report roils energy debate

“Since the shale gas revolution and resulting confirmation of enormous domestic gas reserves, there has been a relatively small group of analysts and geologists who have doubted the future of shale gas. Their doubts have become very convenient to the environmental activists I mentioned earlier,” he writes.

His lengthy message later adds:

“By analyzing actual Chesapeake well performance, we know that the initial productivity associated with a majority of our shale gas wells have been steadily improving over the years in all of our gas shale plays, both in initial production rates and the expected ultimate recoveries of natural gas. We fully expect that the majority of these wells will be productive for 30-50 years, or even longer.”

One of the Times stories, however, discloses an email from a Chesapeake geologist to a federal energy analyst that states: “Our engineers here project these wells out to 20-30 years of production and in my mind that has yet to be proven as viable.” The email continues: “In fact I’m quite skeptical of it myself when you see the % decline in the first year of production.”

Meanwhile Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) wrote to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) Monday asking for more information about their data and methods used for estimating natural-gas reserves.

Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, points to the new Times story that cites doubts among federal analysts — aired in emails the paper obtained — about how much gas can be economically produced.

“We need to know whether the natural gas located underneath the surface is a real source of fuel for the next generation, or a speculative bubble hyped by the oil and gas industry, and echoed by the federal government’s energy experts,” Markey said in a statement, noting that natural gas is touted as a “bridge” fuel to help carry the U.S. from coal and oil into wider deployment of renewables.

“If these claims are accurate, natural gas could offer a viable pathway towards meeting our energy needs while reducing carbon dioxide pollution. If they are not, America’s natural gas future could be a bridge to nowhere,” he states.

EIA’s most recent Annual Energy Outlook forecasts that “shale gas production continues to increase strongly through 2035,” growing almost fourfold in that period.

“While total domestic natural gas production grows from 21.0 trillion cubic feet in 2009 to 26.3 trillion cubic feet in 2035, shale gas production grows to 12.2 trillion cubic feet in 2035, when it makes up 47 percent of total U.S. production — up considerably from the 16-percent share in 2009,” EIA states.

An official with EIA, the Energy Department’s independent statistical arm, defends the agency in the Times story, noting it is forthright about acknowledging uncertainties. Major EIA forecasts typically provide a range of estimates.