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USGS boosts assessment of recoverable natural gas in Marcellus Shale by 42x from 2002; now 84 trillion cubic feet

Map of the Appalachian Basin Province showing the three Marcellus Shale assessment units. 96% of the estimated resource resides within the Interior Marcellus AU. Source: USGS. Click to enlarge.

The Marcellus Shale contains about 84.198 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas and 3.379 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas liquids, according to a new geology-based assessment by the US Geological Survey (USGS). Technically recoverable oil and gas resources are those quantities of oil and gas producible using currently available technology and industry practices, regardless of economic or accessibility considerations.

These gas estimates are significantly higher than the last USGS assessment of the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin in 2002, which estimated a mean of about 2 trillion cubic feet of gas (TCF) and 0.01 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

The increase in undiscovered, technically recoverable resource is due to new geologic information and engineering data, as technological developments in producing unconventional resources (e.g., the fracking boom) have been significant in the last decade, USGS says.

USGS vs. EIA/INTEK estimates
While the new 84 TCF USGS assessment marks a significant increase from the 2002 report, it is also considerably less than an estimate developed by INTEK, under a commission from the US Energy Information Administration, published in July that pegged Marcellus technically recoverable shale gas resources at 410.3 TCF.
INTEK developed its resource estimates from publicly available company data and commercial databases for wells and acreage currently in production. The estimates of technically recoverable resources are based on the area, well spacing, and average expected ultimate recovery (EUR) for each shale play or subportion of the play.
Overall, INTEK estimated total on-shore recoverable shale gas resources for the lower 48 states at 750 TCF. That 750 trillion cubic feet of shale gas resources is, however, a subset of the EIA’s AEO2011 onshore Lower 48 States natural gas shale technically recoverable resource estimate of 862 trillion cubic feet.
In November 2010, EIA had reported proved shale gas reserves for the Marcellus play of 4.478 TCF for 2009. EIA defines proved reserves as those volumes of oil and natural gas that geologic and engineering data demonstrate with reasonable certainty to be recoverable in future years from known reservoirs under existing economic and operating conditions.

Since the 1930s, almost every well drilled through the Marcellus found noticeable quantities of natural gas. However, in late 2004, the Marcellus was recognized as a potential reservoir rock, instead of just a regional source rock, meaning that the gas could be produced from it instead of just being a source for the gas. Technological improvements resulted in commercially viable gas production and the rapid development of a major, new continuous natural gas and natural gas liquids play in the Appalachian Basin, the oldest producing petroleum province in the United States.

This USGS assessment is an estimate of continuous gas and natural gas liquid accumulations in the Middle Devonian Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin. The estimate of undiscovered natural gas ranges from 43.0 to 144.1 TCF (95% to 5% probability, respectively), and the estimate of natural gas liquids ranges from 1.6 to 6.2 billion barrels (95% to 5% probability, respectively). There are no conventional petroleum resources assessed in the Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin.

The entire undiscovered gas and natural gas liquids resource is in a continuous accumulation and is contained within a single TPS (total petroleum system), the Devonian Shale-Middle and Upper Paleozoic TPS.

The Marcellus Shale is divided into three assessment units (AUs) within the Appalachian Basin—the Western Margin Marcellus AU, which encompasses the western extent of the formation and west of the Appalachian Structural Front (ASF); the Interior Marcellus AU, which is the central extent of the trend and west of the ASF; and the Foldbelt Marcellus AU, which is east of the ASF. The total area of these three AUs extends from southern New York to northeastern Tennessee and from central Ohio to western Virginia and Maryland.

Ninety-six percent of the estimated resource resides within the Interior Marcellus AU.

The Interior Marcellus AU contains the Marcellus Shale that is 50 feet thick or more; ranges in depth from less than 2,000 ft to more than 11,000 ft; and contains strata that range in current levels of thermal maturity from peak oil to past-peak gas.

USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources of onshore lands and offshore state waters. The USGS worked with the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, the Ohio Geological Survey, and representatives from the oil and gas industry and academia to develop an improved geologic understanding of the Marcellus Shale. The USGS Marcellus Shale assessment was undertaken as part of a nationwide project assessing domestic petroleum basins using standardized methodology and protocol.

USGS will update its 2008 estimate of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas in the US portion of the Bakken Formation, an important domestic petroleum resource located in North Dakota and Montana beginning in Fiscal Year 2012.




By my calculations, 84E12 CF gas = 86E15 BTU = 15E9 barrels of oil, which is in the same ballpark as our current oil reserves, and about 6% of the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia (according to the CIA World Factbook)


This means lots of hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, which means pumping billions of fluid into the ground to force the desired products out of hiding. Although it is mostly water, there are various additives to amplify the effect. This stuff can easily end up in the water table, and there is no way of getting it out.

Yes, it is profitable, but is it wise? The people making the money have far more influence than the people who are concerned that we will regret this later, so things have proceeded on the assurance from the industry that this is all perfectly safe.


"USGS boosts assessment of recoverable natural gas in Marcellus Shale by 42x from 2002; now 84 trillion cubic feet".. "Do I hear 45X??"

In other words, their prior 'assessment' was wrong by 42 times(4200%!! - right in the ballpark) - so let's believe EVERYTHING they say.

There is a quote from a statistics text, "Figures don't lie, but liars figure."

For sure, we know fracking has the energy to make drinking water burn..

There's also the oil industry track record of integrity, humanity, and modest profits..


There is something here that I do not understand... This gas is referred to as "undiscovered". How can they know how much gas there is if it is not discovered yet?


At present US nat gas consumption rate, roughly 24 trillion cubic feet per year, this resource is equivalent to 4 years of supply.

Account Deleted

There is a lot of confusion in the public about hydrofracking. Hydrofracking is not a new technology. It has been used in vertical oil and gas drillings for over 60 years. Therefore there are no new environmental dangers involved with hydrofracking. The chemicals that are blended with the water that is used for hydrofracking are not toxic either. You can drink it without getting sick. However, the backflow of frackingwater from a drilled well is toxic because it contains hydrocarbons and other stuff that exist in the earth that you are drilling in. That is not a problem either. The used hydrofracking water can be recycled or it can be cleaned.

A little history is needed to understand what is up and down in the oil and industry. Vertical drilling for oil and gas is a 100 years old technique. Vertical drilling with hydrofracking started in the 1950’es. Horizontal oil and gas drilling began in the 1980’es and horizontal hydrofracking began around 2004.

Why is this history important? Because, if you use vertical drilling in a shale formation your gas well will produce 5 barrels of oil equivalents per day. If you use horizontal drilling or if you drill vertically with hydrofracking your gas well produces 50 barrels per day. However, if you use horizontal drilling with hydrofracking your gas well will produce 500 barrels per day. The latter is profitable in almost all kinds of shale formations that exist all over the planet. This is why the invention of horizontal drilling with hydrofracking in about 2004 is a big deal in the oil and gas industry. Nobody knows exactly how much gas and liquids that the global shale formations contain because we have not yet mapped them in sufficient detail. Remember until 2004 these formations were largely uneconomical to drill. However, we know enough now to conclude that they will multiply the existing reserves of conventional natural gas. In other words, in a country like USA natural gas and liquids from shale formations can easily replace coal and oil as there is plenty of it.


Not good news for climate change...

Chad Snyder

Peter XX-

Why is it not good news for climate change?

According to the Sierra Club, if fracking is regulated properly it can be far more environmentally friendly than guzzling foreign oil.

Anybody that is open-minded, included many of the environmental zealots at the Sierra Club, acknowledge that it's going to take a significant amount of time -- several decades -- to replace petroleum with renewables.

So, why not take sound interim approaches?

China is already the world's largest methanol economy and new geological surveys there suggest that China might hold the world's largest supplies of shale. I guarantee, they are going to tap into it, and they are already studying and buying the technical resources.

Environmentally friendly fracking is possible and we could not only benefit -- in terms of reduced foreign oil dependence and cleaner emissions -- but we can sell the technology throughout the world.

Saying its not perfect enough and waiting for some magical solution certainly isn't good news for climate change, nor US energy security.

It's time to start getting real.


Shale oil, shale gas, NG, crude oil, coal and other fossil fuel may not last much more than another century, if the consumption keeps going up at the current rate.

Bio-fuels are not sustainable because to produce enough of it to replace fossil fuels would compete with food production. Food prices would go up and our 300+ pounders could no longer afford all they eat and would have to go a a diet or go very hungry. Many others would starve.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other clean sustainable energy sources to be economically captured, stored, distributed and use for many million years. China claims that by 2015, they will produce solar energy at the same price as coal fired power plants. If China can do it, others will a few years latter.


The Spinach Party will do all and everything to stop the energy development. The latest insanity is a law suit brought by a California extremist group to sue oil companies which produce 100LL for aircraft piston engines. If successful it would effectively kill the General Aviation industry in the USA.

Incidentally other green idiots demand the shut down of hydro electric power plants because the associated storage reservoirs are a source of methane.

I suggest they all be rounded up dropped in the wilderness to see how long they survive.


I suppose that you have heard about climate change. Let me ask you a question. Why should this be good (or neutral) for climate change? Don´t give me the answer that you do not believe in climate change! I have heard that too many times.

If we would get access to unlimited energy resources - no matter if it is climate neutral or not - we would destroy the environment on this planet anyway. However, in my option, we will run of or cheap energy, so in that sense, discoveries of giant gas resources might give us an opportunity to develop something sustainable. This is on the condition, though, that we try whatever we can to reduce the use of energy. In that area, you have some homework to do in the USA.


The conversion of coal-fired to NG-fired central power plants is a good thing for environment provided the fracking process cleans up after itself.

NG should also be viewed as a primary fuel to a new distributed energy economy. Further expansion of NG fired CHP systems in business and residential buildings will lower demand for coal, old grid upgrades and imported oil. The security issue alone demands this evolution.

Biofuels are making steady headway via cellulosic "drop in" fuels like bio-gasoline and jet fuel. Catalyzing algal biomass conversion to these products is now underway.

Solar will provide supplemental energy to homes provided some storage mechanism is utilized. But the plummeting cost of materials is damaging the earnings - thereby threatening bankruptcy even for Chinese manufacturers:

"The fundamental problem for the [Chinese]solar sector is that supply has far outstripped demand, putting tremendous pressure on panel prices, a trend that accelerated in the second quarter."


Reel$$...China claims that they will increase solar sells production by 10x to 100x to meet increased local demands and exports by 2015. Storage units production will have to follow.


"I suggest they all be rounded up dropped in the wilderness to see how long they survive." LMAO!

@Peter: "unlimited energy resources - no matter if it is climate neutral or not - we would destroy the environment on this planet anyway. "



How? Definitely one of the most naive questions today! Don´t you have any imagination at all? We could, for example, dig up the whole planet in search for lithium. If you just sit down and think for a couple of minutes, you will come up with 10 even more relevant issues that we could concentrate our “energy” on. It is in human nature to destroy most of the habitat around us…


Just visited friends in PA who are both very knowledgeable about shale gas and are very excited about its economic prospects for the state - lots of good paying jobs and all that. I asked them how long they expect the gas to last. Answer: about 25 years. As these are both very intelligent people I was really surprised by how deeply they've accepted the "boom and bust" view. And here I was hoping that we'd all learn something from the current economic situation we got ourselves into.


If NG is cheap and abundant, power plants could use ccs with 30% parasitic losses and still produce cheap electricity. This would offer zero-emission cheap abundant fossil fuel for many decades.


Peter XX: exercise some imagination yourself. If we have unlimited carbon-free energy, we can e.g. manufacture graphene by combustion of magnesium in solid CO2. Cheap graphene would displace lots of uses of metals, as the same cheap energy made it easier to recycle the metal in discarded products. Last, making graphene from CO2 extracts carbon from the atmosphere, restoring the historical composition.

Fossil fuels were made by application of carbon-free energy in the first place (albeit slowly). Why not apply human ingenuity to replaying that scenario at speeds similar to the rate at which we reversed it?


If ground water is driven toxic, natural gas is hard to drink, bathe in, wash in, survive in..


While NG probably won't ever be widely used in cars, it might be adopted by the trucking industry. NG fueling facilities are being planned throughout major transportation corridors in the US. If Rick Perry gets elected, expect a lot of NG legislation passed in congress. ExxonMobil recently spent A LOT of money buying XTO Energy - they will use their warchest to lobby & get a more favorable climate for NG.


"It is in human nature to destroy most of the habitat around us… "

Pretty well writes Peter XX off as an unimaginative misanthrope. From what planet, Peter?


As Alain said "If NG is cheap and abundant, power plants could use ccs with 30% parasitic losses and still produce cheap electricity. This would offer zero-emission cheap abundant fossil fuel for many decades."

Even if it is only part way to zero emissions, it is much better than the status quo (and the “status quo” INCLUDES our unwavering snail’s pace to “sustainable” energy)

william g irwin

Gee guys, with all the chemistry research going on out there, can't we sensibly convert NG to a different liquid fuel closer to gasoline - like butane or similar?
Then we could just deliver it through the existing infrastructure directly into transportation - no compression or special tanks required!


A recent study claims that by 2020, smart homes and buildings will be a $900B business. Over 50% of it will be in China. After Smart Phones and PC tablets, this may be one of the fastest growing industry. Many smart homes will not have to be connected to a national e-grid or NG pipelines.

By 2030, many evolved smart homes will produce enough sustainable clean energy for the residence and 2+ electrified vehicles. Many smart buildings may do the same on a larger scale.

The current argument about Coal, Crude oil, Shale Gas and NG burning will be history by 2040.

Roger Pham

Any conversion would involve additional cost and efficiency loss. The most efficient and least expensive way is to run big trucks on NG directly, similar to what T Boone Picken had in mind. This will reduce on the demand on imported oil and will increase our energy security.

Recent news from the Chinese gov. announced that: "Solar energy could match coal's price by 2015 in China; globally by 2020." This means that in the near future, solar energy can be used to produce H2 which may be used directly in FCV's, or combined with captured CO2 to produce methane for winter home heating and HDV's transportation and shipping with LNG (uh, Liquefied synthetic methane)


WRT the above, you're spot on.
See the following link:

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