Interior boosts Marcellus Shale gas estimates

The new estimate for the Marcellus Shale — which includes portions of New York, West Virginia and other states — is far higher than the 2002 survey, when the mean estimate was 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 10 million barrels of natural gas liquids.

Energy companies are boosting production thanks to advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, dubbed “fracking.”

It involves high-pressure injections of water, chemicals and sand into rock formations, which opens cracks that enable trapped gas to escape.

The total estimate does not mean all the resource can or will be developed. USGS notes in a summary:

These new estimates are for technically recoverable oil and gas resources, which are those quantities of oil and gas producible using currently available technology and industry practices, regardless of economic or accessibility considerations. As such, these estimates include resources beneath both onshore and offshore areas (such as Lake Erie) and beneath areas where accessibility may be limited by policy and regulations imposed by land managers and regulatory agencies.

Nonetheless, energy industry groups moved quickly to highlight the new estimate Tuesday, which comes amid a wider political and legal battle over fracking. 

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a natural gas industry group, lauded the new estimates in a statement Tuesday.

“These new figures are further affirmation that the Marcellus Shale will continue to safely produce prolific amounts of clean-burning American natural gas for generations to come. While advent of shale gas development in the United States was only several years ago, its impact is proving to be profound and lasting,” said Kathryn Z. Klaber, the group’s president.

Environmentalists say fracking carries risks of major groundwater contamination and other harms, and are pushing for tighter federal regulation, while industry groups say the concerns are vastly overstated and warn that new federal rules could discourage development.

A panel of Energy Department advisers this month issued a closely watched report that was bullish on gas development while cautioning that improved water and air pollution safeguards are needed.

But the report steered clear of recommendations on the balance between state and federal rules, and also endorsed wider, industry-led “best practices” efforts.

This post was updated at 4:41 p.m.