Help for Declining Natural Gas Production Seen in the Unconventional Sources of Natural Gas

EMD-80-8: Published: Jan 10, 1980. Publicly Released: Jan 10, 1980.

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Natural gas provides about 25 percent of the Nation's energy. However, since gas supplies from conventional sources are expected to decline, unconventional gas sources have been receiving additional attention. Gas from the eastern Devonian shales and western sands are the chief potential contributors to unconventional gas production in the near term. The prospects of coal bed methane production will improve if further demonstrations verify that recovery is technically feasible and economically competitive. The prospects for geopressured methane production remain speculative at the present time.

The principal deterrents to widespread investment in shale gas wells in the past have been low production rates and low gas prices. If the Department of Energy's (DOE) research and development program, and the industry, continue to demonstrate techniques which improve gas recovery rates within the range of competitive prices, investments in shale gas wells will be more favorable. In addition, decontrol of shale gas prices appears to make shale gas prospects commercially attractive. The problem of high resistance to gas flow in the tight sand deposits must be overcome by improvements in well fracturing technology. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has begun proceedings which could result in higher prices for tight sand gas production, and providing additional incentives for production should accelerate industry activity in the sand gas basins. As the pace of coal mining increases, so will the venting of methane trapped in coal beds. Analysis indicates that methane production from both mineable and unmineable coal beds is ecomomically attractive, but demonstrations of recovery methods are necessary for encouraging commercial development. Coal fracturing methods have been proposed for increasing gas flows, but there is the fear of mine roof instability. Since other methods are available for methane drainage from minable coal, it appears that development of this resource could proceed without the use of fracturing methods. Such substantial research and development is required for geopressured methane that the commercial potential of the resource is not presently known.

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