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Amy Mall’s Blog

Newest evidence that oil and gas resources are finite and we need to focus on clean energy solutions

Amy Mall

Posted December 23, 2013

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If you listen to the oil and gas industry, American can go on forever depending on dirty fossil fuels.

Some people define "forever" differently than others. The Great Law of the Iriquois nations says: "Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground -- the unborn of the future Nation."

Researchers from the University of Texas have published a peer-reviewed paper that details the rapid decline of shale gas well production. They reviewed data for more than 8,000 wells over a ten-year period, and found that “many wells are on track to produce only about 10 percent of their potential” and “most horizontal wells for which predictions are possible underperform their theoretical production limits.”

Why is this important? Here’s the cold hard truth from the lead researcher on this paper, Dr. Tad Patzek, who is the chairman of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas:

 “So these wells can produce at low rates for probably 25, 30 years. But in order for us to get the very high rates we need to run our economy, we need to drill more and more of them. So the question is, can we drill enough of these initially high-producing wells to offset the declines of the older wells?

For the time being, we have been winning this game by drilling massive numbers of wells, but with time it will be more and more difficult. So the production, after a while, will decline ultimately. And we as a country have to understand that this is inevitably going to happen.”

The same rapid decline is also an issue with oil wells as gas wells in shale formations. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle’s FuelFix concluded:

“Behind the headlines boasting of a U.S. oil boom, producers have been grappling with rapid production declines at aging shale-play wells. The only answer: drill more and more wells.”

According to an official from the U.S. Energy Information Administration: "For every 100 barrels you produce from new Bakken wells, 70 barrels of that go just to replace the decline from old wells.”

Dr. Patzek has calculated that the cost of drilling horizontal wells in Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Arkansas has been about $240 billion over the last five years.

How much clean energy via efficiency or renewables would that have bought the U.S.? 

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Michael BerndtsonDec 23 2013 01:17 PM

Very nice, Amy.

Questions to ask our state treasurers... Will there be enough bond money for plugging and abandonment (P&A) of all these two-mile long horizontal wells? Is part of the royalty trust set aside for P&A and remediation? O&G MLPs hopefully put some away, no? Hopefully? Could you maybe ask them?

MLP = master limited partnership - optimized for maximum cash flow extraction - which follows the exponential*error function decay curve common to extraction of organic molecules embedded and imbibed into the pores and micro fractures of ultra high permeability shale. Sorry, that was kind of jerky.

DENCODec 23 2013 01:31 PM

Amy, as usual your blog is more propaganda than reality. Would you rather we spent $240 billion buying oil from abroad, while Americans remain unemployed? Oil is used for transportation and to make Patagonia jackets. Until all of our cars are converted to electricity or natural gas we will remain dependent on oil. Thanks to the new shale plays we now have enough natural gas to power America's electrical grid and transportation needs for our lifetime. I am all for renewables, even at their substantial higher cost, but your misleading blog is not the way to promote them.

Amy MallDec 23 2013 02:13 PM

Dear Michael: thanks for the comment. The Governor of Wyoming recently announced a plan to deal with abandoned wells there; I have not yet blogged on it, but his letter on the topic might interest you:

Amy MallDec 23 2013 02:28 PM

Dear DENCO: Thanks for the comment. I agree we will remain dependent on fossil fuels for some time but this is more evidence that we need to maximize our transition away from fossil fuels as fast as possible to minimize the health, environmental and safety impacts.

Michael BerndtsonDec 24 2013 11:42 AM

Thanks, Amy. Interesting read. Basically the Gov is telling state reps to get at it while money is coming in. (He's probably read a well production graph or two.) There's only going to be more wells to plug in the future. The cost for plugging, abandonment and remediation will increase greatly for horizontal frack wells compared to conventional vertical wells.

An interesting side issue is what happened at Pavillion. The US EPA bailed and left it for Wyoming to deal with. This basically says, in my opinion since nobody else is writing this comment, is that there won't be money coming in from the feds to help with P&A and remediation. Smart move if this opinion means anything.

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