How Much Natural Gas Does the Marcellus Really Hold?

The question of how much recoverable gas there is in the Marcellus will likely be a topic of debate for some years. In 2009, Penn State geosciences professor Dr. Terry Engelder estimated there’s around 489 trillion cubic feet of gas—the largest amount of recoverable gas of any shale play in the U.S. But in January of this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the authoritative voice of the government for such data, estimated that the Marcellus has around 141 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas total.

Who’s right? We have two new reports presented at a research conference on Monday at Penn State University which confirm Dr. Engelder’s original estimate:

Engelder in 2009 projected the Marcellus could produce 489 trillion cubic feet of gas. His paper was not peer-reviewed, but other researchers, working with data from well production and test data from other shale plays, have reaffirmed his estimates, he said.

ICF, an industry consultant based in suburban Washington, estimated a range of 460 to 698 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to a presentation from company vice president Harry Vidas. ICF used maps from five major gas producers, analyzed historical data and modeled well potential.

IHS consultants from Houston and suburban Denver, participating by phone, said they completed their Marcellus update just this weekend. In 2009, they estimated 399 trillion cubic feet. Their new estimate ranges from 267 to 534 trillion cubic feet, depending on gas prices and the density of wells across the gas field. The gas sweet spot in the Pittsburgh area may produce up to three times the amount per well as other parts of the Marcellus, according to IHS.*

Why is this number so important? First, the truth about how much gas really exists exposes the blatant anti-drilling propaganda printed in the New York Times—a series of articles last year attempting to smear the entire shale gas industry as a Ponzi scheme with energy companies attempting to drive up their stock prices based on future earnings potential that they “know” doesn’t exist. Second, it’s important because if investors and businesses think the opportunity is not all that great, they’ll stay away. Less investment and less business participation—less jobs and economic benefit for everyone.

*Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Mar 20, 2012) – New figures on shale gas optimistic