April 12, 2008 by NRCCE News
Morgantown, W.Va. — West Virginia University’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy is playing host to a packed house of geologists and engineers eager to learn more about how to tap the riches in Devonian Black Shale. The geological formation lays 4,000 to 8,000 feet below Appalachia spanning New York to Kentucky and holds an estimated $12 billion to $150 billion worth of natural gas.
Douglas Patchen, director of the NRCCE’s Petroleum Technology Transfer Center which is conducting the two-day workshop this week, said that geologists and petroleum engineers are here to understand the natural fractures in the Devonian. Fractures play a critical role in recovering the most natural gas possible.
“Fracture formation in any geological basin is a complex process. It’s pretty esoteric, but understanding it is what helps geologists and engineers find the resources we need to keep our homes warm at reasonable prices,” said Patchen.
Depending on the weather, the average U.S. household uses between 82 to 86 thousand cubic feet, or Mcf, of natural gas each year. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that residential consumers in the southeast and northeast tend to pay the most, with prices ranging from $17 to more than $20 per Mcf, or $1,394 to $1,720 per year. But states in which natural gas is produced or who have major gas distribution lines tend to pay between $10 and $15 per Mcf. West Virginians pay about $15 per Mcf.
“Demand from the east coast markets keeps our prices on the higher side,” said Patchen. “To give you some idea how prices have changed, I paid 66 cents per Mcf for natural gas when I moved to Morgantown in 1966,” said Patchen. “Resources are getting harder to retrieve making drilling and production for a single well more expensive, which is why learning how to get the most gas per well really does matter to the consumer,” he said.
The instructor for the workshop, Terry Engelder, is a professor of geoscience at The Pennsylvania State University and the leading expert in fracture behavior in formations worldwide.
The 175 participants are from all the big oil and gas states in the U.S., including Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and many of the Appalachian states. “Companies such as Chesapeake and Dominion from the east, Range Resources and Ansbro from the west, and multinationals such as BP and Halliburton are interested in West Virginia and this particular play because of the money that can be made,” said Patchen. “We turned away a couple dozen very unhappy people because we had a capacity audience,” he said.
The WVU NRCCE’s Petroleum Technology Transfer Center is one of six regional centers across the nation managed by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists dedicated to provide world class information about plays of greatest interest to the industry in each region.