Fracking for Natural Gas May be Falling ShortJun 27, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP
Is the natural gas industry in the midst of an "Enron moment?" According to an article published over the weekend in The New York Times, it very well could be. According to the report, the natural gas industry's earlier predictions about the promise of shale gas drilling, which is done via hydraulic fracturing or fracking, may have been way off.
Among other things, the Times' report details emails written by industry analysts and natural gas insiders who question the assertion that fracking for shale gas will provide a cheap and easy solution to U.S. energy woes. At times, some even appear to question whether or not the industry has purposely misstated the production of natural gas wells. Some choice tidbits include:
“'And now these corporate giants are having an Enron moment,’ a retired geologist from a major oil and gas company wrote in a February e-mail about other companies invested in shale gas.’They want to bend light to hide the truth.'"
“'Do you think that there may be something suspicious going with the public companies in regard to booking shale reserves?,' a senior official from Ivy Energy, an investment firm specializing in the energy sector, wrote in a 2009 e-mail."
Already, the natural gas boom appears to be running out of steam in Fort Worth, Texas, where drillers started rescinding high-priced lease offers after the economic downturn of 2008 sent natural gas prices plummeting. Data reviewed by the Times indicate that many wells in the Barnett shale, which includes Fort Worth, will become financially unviable within 10 to 15 years. The same analysis, which also looked at production in the Haynesville shale in East Texas and Louisiana and the Fayetteville shale in Arkansas, found less than 20 percent of the area heralded by companies as productive will likely be profitable under current market conditions.
According to the Times, shale gas drilling is a relatively new practice, and energy companies' predictions are based on limited data and some guess work. For the most part, the drillers have predicted that production will drop sharply after the first few years but then level off, with many wells producing for decades. But the Times' analysis indicated that many wells in shale gas fields don't level off, but instead decline steadily.