From “Colonel” Drake To The Marcellus Shale Gas Play - Transmission Developments

Profiling Natural Gas’ Hottest Play
By Derek Weber | March 2010 Vol. 237 No. 3
Buyer's Guide

(Author’s note: This is the first part of a three-part series on the Marcellus Shale Play. Part two will cover distribution, and part three focuses on production and midstream).

Gamechanger is just one of the compelling terms being used to describe emerging shale gas plays across North America. In light of the red-hot intensity surrounding the largest of these, the Marcellus Shale Gas play, now recognized as the largest unconventional natural gas reserve in the world - with estimated recoverable reserves of at least 489 Tcf - it seems particularly relevant to remember the Greek philosopher Heraklietos and his axiom, that change is the only constant in the universe.

The scale of the Marcellus, at 22.4 million acres, coupled with the region’s historical relevancy in the development of the modern oil and gas industry, might also lend credit to another complementary point of view - the more things change the more they seem to stay the same and, on occasion, even repeat themselves.

Both sentiments ring freshly true as 150 years of history come full circle, bridging the past to the present and connecting the start of “Colonel” Edwin Laurentine Drake’s original boom in 1859 to today’s Marcellus play. The Marcellus Shale formation had been well-known by operators in the Appalachian Basin - having been historically viewed as a drilling hindrance to tapping conventional gas reserves. It now is widely seen as the quintessential American energy solution in a carbon-constrained world. The change was precipitated through widely reported advances in horizontal-drilling technologies and hydro-fracturing processes, twin catalysts which have turned this proverbial separation of wheat from chaff directly on its ear.

The Marcellus Shale gas play is part of the Devonian Black Shale Succession that spans seven states in the northeastern U.S., covering an estimated 54,000 square miles stretching across New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as extending through parts of Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky (see Marcellus map, above). Final estimates of the resources located in the Marcellus had been on a slow burn since the 2002 publication of the U.S. Geological Survey, “Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the Appalachian Basin Province,” which calculated the Marcellus Shale as containing about 2 Tcf of natural gas. By 2007, studies produced by researchers Gary Lash at Fredonia State College and Terry Engelder of Pennsylvania State University predicted that 500 Tcf to 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet (Qcf) of recoverable reserves lay within the shale. This increase of many orders of magnitude tracks closely with the compound successes that have broken through in the Barnett play in Texas.

The momentum being created by the size of the Marcellus play in close proximity to mature markets, coupled with investor confidence in emerging shale gas plays, has only accelerated development plans. On the ground, producers have been impressing industry observers with the publication of Marcellus well flow rates that often transcend the substantial and approach the celestial. Transmission companies have followed suit by announcing a staggering assemblage of new and expanded pipeline projects - a count hovering around 24 projects destined for in-service dates over the next 36 months.