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The Barnett Shale Or How I Learned to Love the Gas
June 18, 2008 1:35 PM   Subscribe

The Barnett Shale, the largest onshore natural gas formation in America, is transforming Fort Worth, TX and surrounding areas.

It is estimated that up to 30 trillion cubic feet of unconventional natural gas is held in the shale formations below the western half of the DFW metroplex. Urban drilling is becoming commonplace using innovative horizontal and fracturing techniques to get the stubborn gas to flow. Property owners, gas companies and even Tommy Lee Jones are all thrilled about it. These folks aren't. Apparantly our nation is full of gas.
posted by punkfloyd (45 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
My folks live on a hill overlooking the flatlands outside of Ft. Worth. When I was home two years ago -- nothing. When I went back last December, the number of rigs going up was incredible. They're everywhere.

It's not really a boon for the average suburbanite, like your FW Weekly link says. Most folks around there don't have mineral rights. My parents don't. My dad is pissed that he can't cash in.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:42 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually many people in this area do own their mineral rights. I do and XTO and Chesapeake are fighting over which will pay be $20,000 per acre. To bad my house sits on 1/4 acre! To get a quick deal done on 1,000 acres some landmen and companies are offering leases that do not even bother with checking who actually owns mineral rights and it may only affect royalties which can be rather paltry.
posted by punkfloyd at 1:48 PM on June 18, 2008


Interesting. My parents bought their lot 35 years ago. I wonder if people in newer developments have mineral rights more often than the older folks.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:54 PM on June 18, 2008


Present Natural gas cost: $12.50 per Million BTU.
Present Gasoline gas cost: $39.50 per Million BTU

Things that make you go hmmmm.
posted by tachikaze at 1:58 PM on June 18, 2008


//total derail
Tommy Lee Jones was sitting in the seat in front of me when we saw Iron Man a couple of weeks back. When the new Batman preview came on I wanted to be all like "Man, I'm so glad they've rescued this franchise from the chasm into which it was thrown in the '90s!"
//. . . and we're back!
posted by resurrexit at 1:58 PM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm visiting the Metroplex this week, and I was wondering what the TLJ billboards were referring to. Once again, Metafilter has perfectly anticipated my information needs.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:59 PM on June 18, 2008


Yeah, I think mineral rights are more slanted towards homeowners nowadays, at least in Texas. We're buying a postage stamp sized lot in a new subdivision and yet still have mineral rights to it.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:02 PM on June 18, 2008


oh, and according to this, 30TCF of NG = 5.5B bbl equivalent, about a year and a half of our petroleum imports.
posted by tachikaze at 2:06 PM on June 18, 2008


tachikaze: I'm not sure what you're suggesting, that we somehow attempt to replace oil imports with this gas?
posted by adamdschneider at 2:36 PM on June 18, 2008


adamdschneider, it's not a totally absurd idea. There is one commercially available passenger car that runs on the stuff (Civic NGX), and most carburetor-equipped cars can be retrofitted to run on it, with some expenditure of effort.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:43 PM on June 18, 2008


They are drinking our milkshake.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:49 PM on June 18, 2008 [6 favorites]


that we somehow attempt to replace oil imports with this gas

energy sources -- and hydrocarbons in general -- are fungible in the long view.

Natural gas can be used in engines converted to run on it, or as a feedstock source of hydrogen for fuel cells. More supply is good news, but unfortunately 30TCF isn't quite the immense energy source it sounds like.

Another interesting angle is the 30TCF is about $300B worth of wealth at current NG prices.
posted by tachikaze at 2:53 PM on June 18, 2008


The Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, for all your natural gas vehicle lobbying and information needs.
posted by milkrate at 2:54 PM on June 18, 2008


1adam12: By the time we could build infrastructure for this (and where is that money going to come from), the supply would be gone. With the North American NG situation what it is, it would be an utter crime to waste it on transportation when it could go to electricity generation.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:06 PM on June 18, 2008


...or fertilizer to make corn to make gas.
posted by Avenger at 3:25 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jones is appearing in radio and TV commercials, in full-page newspaper ads (including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) and on billboards along major highways in Tarrant County, espousing the greatness of the Barnett Shale. They feature quotes such as "Let's get behind the Barnett Shale" and "It's here for good."

"It's here for good"? I wouldn't be so sure about that, hoss.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:46 PM on June 18, 2008


I'm just reporting into this thread from Fort Worth's sister city Dallas, which qualifies as a "surrounding area." If there's any "transforming" going on around here? I ain't seein' none of it.

Since pretty much all land south of Oklahoma consists of sedimentary rock (i.e., thin layers of ancient dried up riverbeds and prehistoric ocean floor), I'm looking forward to the day when the good people of Fort Worth and the surrounding area have sucked out so much oil and gas from under Fort Worth, it becomes one giant sinkhole and craters into the Earth. Then we can finally stop calling Dallas "The DFW Metroplex."

As you can probably tell, I'm not a big fan of Fort Worth.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:01 PM on June 18, 2008


1adam12-- We use about 22TCF of natural gas per year in the United States for heating, electrical generation, fertilizer production and industry. The supply has been dwindling and regular concerns about being able to store enough gas for the winter. Suggesting that we ought to shift to NG as a transportation fuel is sheer madness; we'll simply end up wasting another precious resource that has many other uses (like oil) rather than learning to do without and to conserve.
posted by drstrangelove at 4:06 PM on June 18, 2008


To hell with cars. Winter's coming.

Hasn't natural gas been in a (relative) bear market lo these past few years? Calling Mutant!
posted by IndigoJones at 4:09 PM on June 18, 2008


> it would be an utter crime to waste it on transportation when it could go to electricity generation.

Not sure I follow. Why is using it for electricity generation better than using it for transportation? It seems to me that replacing petroleum and fossil fuels for transportation is a much harder problem than replacing it for electricity generation. (For electricity generation, you need to replace powerplants, but the distribution infrastructure and user equipment stay the same; with transportation that all has to change -- you have to replace the distribution and your entire vehicle fleet, depending on the fuel you're talking about.)

Also, there are some things that petroleum, and to a lesser extent LPG, are really good at: providing a really high energy density is one of them. Power plants are far less sensitive to the energy density of the input fuel (hence why you can run them on coal and biomass, and other things you wouldn't want to be constantly shoveling into your car). It seems like we should be saving the relatively precious high-density fuels for uses that really demand them, especially aviation, while producing grid power with lower-quality fuels and alternative sources. (With the end goal of course being a move to sustainable energy on all fronts.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:21 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


"These folks aren't."

"He is particularly upset that there are no regulations forcing real estate salespeople to disclose things like the possibility of a well 213 feet from your home."

I'm always in awe of people who can generate enough scratch for 5 acres with pool and jacuzzi and yet be so ignorant of basic land use law.
posted by Mitheral at 4:25 PM on June 18, 2008


Natural gas is great for a particular and hard to replace segment of the electricity market: peak production. NG plants are relatively inexpensive to build, and the main operational cost is the fuel. So, you can build them and just run them when your baseline powerplants can't meet demand. In our solar future, that might be on very cloudy days with high demand. It's much more economical than building enough baseline power to cover 100% of the time.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:58 PM on June 18, 2008


>that might be on very cloudy days with high demand

?

/California-boy
posted by tachikaze at 5:09 PM on June 18, 2008


The real gravy with gas is that state-of-the-art turbines (usually paired with cogen of some sort) boast some whopping efficiency numbers (85%!). Of course, if you're liquefacting and transporting, you can take a 10+% haircut off of that.

Anyway, on the topic, this is a pretty good introduction to the economics of power gen. Of course, I think the steam coal benchmark was around $40 when it was written. It's three times that today.
posted by Kwantsar at 5:24 PM on June 18, 2008


A NYTimes article about the natural gas boom.

I grew up in the area, and my grandmother still lives in the countryside outside Ft. Worth. Though she has mineral rights on some old family farmland, she never has much good to say about the speeding big trucks tearing up her country roads, the rig across the street on top of an Indian archaeological site, the explosive pipes running just oustide her barbed wire fence, the bright lights and hum of constant pumping, or the suspicous workers who look up at her house on the hill and carelessly start grass fires with their cigarettes. I used to be worried that the housing developments springing up near the highway might some day reach her, engulfing the surrounding prairie -- some of the most beautiful, tranquil landscape on the planet -- now I know it's probably inevitable. There are For Sale signs on empty ranchland, the cattle are going away, the groundwater is being ruined. The urgency and speed associated with this take on what is, of course, a tired old story of greed, desperation, and short-sightedness, is impressive when viewed firsthand, as if some inhuman force were behind it. For me, every rig that goes up around her is just muddying rich childhood memories, but her connection to the land, like many of her older peers who have been there before electricity, is more tangible, and I imagine this kind of activity hurts in a different way.

But that's Texas, and that's always been Texas.
posted by swift at 5:34 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]



I'm just reporting into this thread from Fort Worth's sister city Dallas, which qualifies as a "surrounding area." If there's any "transforming" going on around here? I ain't seein' none of it.


The Barnett Shale is interrupted by the Ouachita Thrust Front just outside of Dallas, which causes there to be no good plays on that side of the metroplex.
posted by Sugar Induced Coma at 5:36 PM on June 18, 2008


//total derail continued

Tommy Lee Jones was sitting in the seat in front of me when we saw Iron Man a couple of weeks back. When the new Batman preview came on I wanted to be all like "Man, I'm so glad they've rescued this franchise from the chasm into which it was thrown in the '90s!"

I'm surprised you could even see anything. That guy's head is massive.

//. . . and we're back!
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:46 PM on June 18, 2008


Hasn't natural gas been in a (relative) bear market lo these past few years?

Uh, no.
posted by euphorb at 6:20 PM on June 18, 2008


Sugar Induced Coma: "The Barnett Shale is interrupted by the Ouachita Thrust Front... "

Yeah. I know. Ain't it great? One day soon there will be Dallas, and then there will be that big gaping sinkhole to the west of Dallas that used to be Fort Worth before it got sucked down into the hollowed out Earth.

Maybe we'll dub it "The Dallas Crater." We'll tell tourists that a meteor crashed there and killed all the dinosaurs and cowboys. It'll be wonderful.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:34 PM on June 18, 2008


That NG drilling is occurring all the way out in Ward and Loving counties...we are talking some for-real boondocks here. I was just visiting there this April.

My Dad grew up in Pecos, and his grandfather had bought all kinds of land in the area. Even in the 1920s and 30s, the mineral rights for the upper 3,000 feet were reserved already. My great grandfather bought then-worthless land and the then-laughable mineral rights below 3,000 and 5,000 feet. The drilling is occurring now at 13,000 to 17,000 feet and even deeper. He who laughs last laughs loudest.

The gas pressures are mind boggling. The drillers were doing a workover to replace a crumpled casing. They later hit a pocket and blew out all the water wells within 1/2 mile radius. The water is now natural gas bubbly water, like Perrier, only foul smelling and undrinkable. The insurance company is handling it, and the ranchers aren't very happy.

West Texas is a mess, folks. I had supported drilling in ANWR, being brought up to believe that drilling is a relatively low impact endeavor. That is so not the case. There are miles and miles of oil and gas lines all over that part of Texas. The litter is unbelievable. The drillers just throw old parts and trash on the ground - some of which has been there for 70 years. The wells themselves leak, and the areas around the wells and pumping units are stained with oil. The newer wells aren't so bad, to be honest. I think it's just too expensive to be that sloppy anymore.

Go check out the area around Mentone, Texas, east to Midland and south to Pecos on Google Earth. The number of wells is staggering. Those are mostly oil wells though. The new gas wells are not nearly so prolific, as it is cheaper to work a wider area with horizontal drilling. The gas rigs are incredible - the deck of the rig is 30 feet above the ground, and they have 6-8 diesel engines each the size of a small house powering the operation. Amazing.
posted by Xoebe at 7:37 PM on June 18, 2008


@ ZachsMind
As you can probably tell, I'm not a big fan of Fort Worth.

I would never have guessed.

Yeah. I know. Ain't it great? One day soon there will be Dallas, and then there will be that big gaping sinkhole to the west of Dallas that used to be Fort Worth before it got sucked down into the hollowed out Earth.

Maybe we'll dub it "The Dallas Crater." We'll tell tourists that a meteor crashed there and killed all the dinosaurs and cowboys. It'll be wonderful.


Don't hold back, man, tell us how you really feel... :-)
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 7:39 PM on June 18, 2008


I thought I would add a comment based on my situation. I live on Eagle Mountain Lake in Fort Worth, and we recently went through this experience. We live on 5 acres and have another 20 undeveloped near Haslet. Though this hasn't changed our lives, I will say it sure makes it much, much better. I never saw this coming; it is one of the few lucky things to ever happen to me.
posted by Senator at 7:43 PM on June 18, 2008


Baseload plants are built as combined cycle / cogen natural gas as well these days. It's that, coal, or nuclear.

whopping efficiency numbers (85%!).


That's if you can do cogen, using the waste heat from your gas turbine as heat, which isn't necessarily an option. If you do combined cycle and use the waste heat for a steam turbine the efficiencies get to around 60%.

Loving County definitely looks to have more wells than people.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:45 PM on June 18, 2008


Kadin2048: It's better to use it for electricity than transportation because the generating infrastructure is already there and new NG-fired plants vastly outnumber new coal-fired plants, while the infrastructure has yet to be built for large-scale NG transportation, the reserves for a large-scale switch just aren't there, and by the time we got everything humming, we'd run out of the stuff.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:15 PM on June 18, 2008


Is this gas extraction a net positive energy gain? I should think the energy used in the steelmaking, transportation, drilling, and etceteras is a few orders of magnitude more than the energy drawn out of the gas bed.

I could easily be out to lunch on that. And of course, it's not like being net positive is the be-all and end-all when there's fast money to be made.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:34 PM on June 18, 2008


“I told him he was crazy and that he was certainly not going to be putting an oil well on my property. I was wrong, of course.”

I'm a simple Englishman who doesn't understand these things. Can someone explain that?
posted by vbfg at 6:20 AM on June 19, 2008


Is this gas extraction a net positive energy gain? I should think the energy used in the steelmaking, transportation, drilling, and etceteras is a few orders of magnitude more than the energy drawn out of the gas bed.

Googling, the energy down there seems to be about 70% of a year's total electrical output in the US. You would have noticed if that amount of energy had been diverted towards making steel and drilling and whatnot.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:37 AM on June 19, 2008


vbfg writes "I'm a simple Englishman who doesn't understand these things. Can someone explain that?"

He thought he could prevent installation of a gas well on his property. He was wrong as the gas owners are entitled to surface access for subsurface resources and the law only requires the well be more than 200 feet from the nearest residence.
posted by Mitheral at 8:30 AM on June 19, 2008


There was a thread on here a few months back about an English guy who lived in an area where what you could do with the land was severely restricted. The rationale was to keep the area rural. He built a house, hid it behind a haystack for a while until the time limit for complaints was up, and then took the haystack away.

I was struck by those who wanted it tearing down and those who thought he should be allowed to do whatever he liked with his land. It seemed to me that the divide in opinion was the Atlantic, but I have never heard anything so crazy as not being able to prevent a drilling company building a rig on your land, making millions right in front of your face, fundamentally altering your quality of life and the landowner not being able to do a damn thing about it.

If you want the gas from under my land you'd better have some tunneling equipment that can get to that spot from some place on your own land, or I'll be flicking my still lit cigarettes at you all day.
posted by vbfg at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2008


Compare and contrast to those twits opposing the offshore Cape Cod wind farm. It's amazing what money can do.
posted by Mitheral at 10:08 AM on June 19, 2008


You want to read about insane land claiming rights? Read this.

In BC anyone can claim mineral rights to your private property and then strip-mine it.

Needless to say, this has caused some amount of anger.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:51 PM on June 19, 2008


Go check out the area around Mentone, Texas, east to Midland and south to Pecos on Google Earth. The number of wells is staggering.

Holy fuck.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:07 PM on June 19, 2008


Sweet Dinosaur Jesus, that's a well-head every 500 feet!

I am astounded that this can be a profitable source of energy.

Hey, in other news, it turns out atmospheric methane levels are on the rise. This may be an early sign that the permafrost fart has begun. This is going to trigger a rapid increase in global temperatures, which will in turn warm the oceans enough to release the vast amounts of seabed methane.

At which point we are well and truly fucked. We're in for a few centuries of extreme weather patterns is my guess, which is going to slaughter the subsistence-level societies and bring our middle-class populations to our knees. Sure glad I don't have kids: only the mega-wealthy are going to come out of this well.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:55 PM on June 19, 2008


Oh. It's worse.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:32 PM on June 19, 2008


Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Compressed Natural Gas for running my Crown Victoria (yes, I am turning 70 next month) costs between $2.20 and $2.70 per GGE (Gasoline Gallon Equivalent) depending on whether it's PG&E or one of the seemingly more private companies. It had been in the $1.60/"gal" range when I bought the car a couple of years ago.

The Crown Victoria was $8000 on ebay, and originally came from Ford set up to run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). It doesn't have quite the horsepower that a gasoline engine has, but it also seems likely to keep on truckin' for twice as long or more. It's weird to change out used oil that has 10,000 miles on it and it pretty much looks like new oil. Getting it smogged is pretty much perfunctory, because burning methane just doesn't make NOx, just a bit of CO2 and water.

All in all, I like it a lot, but it handles like a barge.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 2:44 AM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


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