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Shale gas pushes 20 percent increase in U.S. resource estimate

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With new, higher assessments of gas in the Marcellus Shale and other Eastern formations, an estimate of technically recoverable gas in the U.S. comes to 2,384 trillion cubic feet — up 20 percent from the previous estimate.

"This is the highest resource evaluation in the committee's 48-year history, exceeding the previous high assessment (from 2010) by 486 Tcf," the Potential Gas Committee, an independent body supported by the Potential Gas Agency at the Colorado School of Mines, wrote in a media release issued April 9 with its biennial assessment for year-end 2012, "Potential Supply of Natural Gas in the United States."

Most of the increase arose from new evaluations of shale gas resources in the Atlantic, Rocky Mountain and Gulf Coast areas, the committee said — including this region's Marcellus and Utica shales, although the figures released publicly do not reach that level of detail.

As a result of a substantial increase in the assessment of Appalachian basin shale gas, the PGC now ranks the Atlantic area as the country's richest resource area, with fully one-third of U.S. traditional resources. That includes conventional and shale gas but not coalbed methane.

The PGC has conducted biennial assessments of technically recoverable U.S. natural gas since 1964.

"Technically recoverable resource" represents gas that is expected to be eventually recoverable using existing technology. It includes probable, possible and speculative resources.

When added to the more certain proved reserves, the resource figure contributes to a total estimate of potential future gas supply. Adding the PGC resource figure of 2,384 Tcf to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's most recent, 2010, proved reserves figure of 305 Tcf, the total estimate of future gas supply now comes to 2,689 Tcf.

Since the 2010 figure was released, 49 Tcf of gas production has been marketed. The EIA's proved reserves represent about 12 years of production at that rate, while the reserves plus resource figure of 2,689 Tcf represents about 108 years.

"Our knowledge of the geological endowment of technically recoverable gas continues to improve with each assessment," said John B. Curtis, professor of geology and geological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines and director of the Potential Gas Agency.

"Furthermore, new and advanced exploration, well drilling, completion and stimulation technologies are allowing us increasingly better delineation of and access to domestic gas resources—especially ‘unconventional' gas—which, not all that long ago, were considered impractical or uneconomical to pursue," Curtis said. "Consequently, our present assessment, strengthened by robust domestic production levels, demonstrates an exceptionally strong and optimistic gas supply picture for the nation."

"Potential Supply of Natural Gas in the United States" for 2012 may be purchased for $295 from the Potential Gas Agency.