Report: U.S. natural gas reserves surge 35 percent

A new estimate of the nation’s future natural gas supply has soared by 35 percent over one issued two years earlier.

The biggest part of the growth is attributable to new shale gas plays that emerged in several parts of the country and are competing with northwestern Colorado’s Piceance Basin for drilling investment dollars.

The nonprofit Potential Gas Committee industry group completed the new study, with assistance from the Colorado School of Mines.

It puts the nation’s future supply at 2,074 trillion cubic feet (tcf) as of the end of last year, up by 542 tcf from its estimate two years earlier. The nation consumes 23 tcf a year.

The committee’s total figure includes proven reserves. It also includes a technically recoverable gas resource potential of 1,836 tcf, the highest resource evaluation in the committee’s 44-year history.

The change in assessment arises primarily from analysis of new data from the Gulf Coast, Rocky Mountain and Atlantic and midcontinent regions.

John B. Curtis, a School of Mines geology professor involved with the study, said in a news release that “new and advanced exploration, well drilling and completion technologies are allowing us increasingly better access to domestic gas resources — especially ‘unconventional’ gas — which, not all that long ago, were considered impractical or uneconomical to pursue.”

The group’s estimate of the Rocky Mountains’ resource potential increased by 60 percent, to 374 tcf. The committee says shale gas accounts for 33 percent, or 616 tcf, of the total increase in national resource potential. New shale-gas plays are everywhere from the Rockies to Texas to the eastern United States.

While beneficial for the country, those plays provide new drilling opportunities that could slow the recovery of the energy industry in the Piceance Basin. Lower natural gas prices resulting from the recession caused the local drilling slowdown, and more abundant domestic gas supplies could help keep prices down.

Energy companies say the Piceance Basin is an expensive place to drill. Rocky Mountain gas is far from major markets. Pipeline capacity is limited,  and the gas is sold for less than the national average price.

Don McClure, a vice president for EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), recently said the varying regional costs will be a consideration as companies make drilling investment decisions.

“That’s what the Rocky Mountains are going to face when (economic) recovery does start to occur, is the competition for capital,” he said.


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