Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hubbert's NatGas Forecasts vs. Actual Production

“Hubbert was imaginative and innovative… [but he had] no concept of technological change, economics or how new resource plays evolve. It was a very static view of the world.”– Peter Rose, King Hubbert’s boss at the U.S. Geological Survey. [4] _SteveMaley

King Hubbert's prediction of natural gas production in the US lower 48 turned out to be laughably wrong. Many of his other predictions were likewise absurd, in hindsight. His sole crowning success was his prediction for a crude oil peak in the US lower 48. But even there, his prediction of a most likely year for peak was wrong. And a closer look at the 1970 US crude oil peak reveals that it owed far more to the avalanche of federal and state regulations following the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, than to any restrictions of domestic supply.

It was easier for oil companies to go elsewhere to produce oil, rather than to fight an expensive battle against the seemingly unlimited resources of the US federal government.

But back to Hubbert's failed natgas predictions:
It was always known that some shale rock formations contain gas; the problem was getting the gas out in commercial quantities. Industry pioneer George Mitchell’s Mitchell Energy tried for years to find the key in a shale zone called the Barnett near Fort Worth, TX. Eventually they found that the combination of horizontal wells (wells drilled vertically from the surface, then turned horizontal in the target formation) combined with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), produced economic results. In time, Mitchell’s Newark East Barnett Shale field became the nation’s #1 producing gas field. [5]

Strong natural gas prices starting in 2004 drove the search for other productive shales. When the technology was applied to other shale trends (notably the Haynesville of northwest Louisiana and the Marcellus of Pennsylvania, both of which typically produce at higher rates than the Barnett), shale gas development became today’s full-fledged boom. Shale plays tend to cover broad areas compared to conventional sandstone and carbonate gas reservoirs, so the impact on the estimate of the resource base is enormous. _SteveMaley
Estimates of economically recoverable reserves will grow over time, with experience, and better technology.

Humans have barely scratched the surface of the planet's hydrocarbon complement. Better tools of discovery and production will be developed and applied as needed.

Specific predictions of future production are bound to fail, and often badly. as Hubbert's ghost no doubt understands by now.



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