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Federal Lands: Where the Shales (Mostly) Aren't

Production of oil and natural gas from non-federal lands has skyrocketed while that from federal lands has waned. At least today, the vast majority of shale acreage lies on state and private lands, the Energy Information Administration' (EIA) Howard Gruenspecht, deputy administrator, said. It's coal country that is mostly on the government's property.

The federal government is often criticized for not making more federal land available to exploration and production. To wit: "Where the states have been in charge, we have seen energy development boom...but under federal control we have seen a sharp decline in production," said House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) earlier this year (see Shale DailyMarch 7).

So, is production from federal lands declining because the acreage is off-limits? Would the energy industry find shale oil and gas if it were allowed onto the lands? Gruenspecht didn't say so either way during his presentation at the North American Prospect Expo business conference in Houston Wednesday. But he emphasized that with the exception of areas in a handful of states, the country's shale patch is out of Washington's hands.

"One thing to note is there's not that much overlap between shale plays and federal lands..." he said. "Federal lands are concentrated in the West; shale plays are not concentrated in the West...There's very little federal land in the Eagle Ford [Shale of South Texas]. There's some federal land in some of the other plays. There's some federal land, I think, in the Haynesville. There's some federal land in the Marcellus, but it's, all in all, very little overlap."

Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and, to a lesser extent, Montana and North Dakota are where one can find shale resources on federal land, Gruenspecht said. "But the fossil resource that really overlaps with federal lands is coal, frankly. Coal overlaps with federal lands much more than oil and natural gas."

Gruenspecht presented Drillinginfo 2012 production statistics from the Eagle Ford, Haynesville and Tuscaloosa Marine shales, three plays that have little overlap with federal lands, he said.

Eagle Ford federal lands liquids production was only 1,000 bbl last year while that from non-federal lands was more than 203 million bbl. On the gas side, federal Eagle Ford produced 1 MMcf last year versus 924 MMcf from non-federal lands.

Federal Haynesville produced 109,000 bbl last year versus 669,000 bbl from non-federal acreage. Haynesville federal lands gas production was 73 MMcf versus more than 2.5 Bcf from non-federal lands.

And in the emerging Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, federal lands yielded 239,000 bbl of liquids versus nearly 6.3 million bbl from non-federal lands; gas production was 1 MMcf from federal lands and 27 MMcf from non-federal lands.

"There's not that much production on federal onshore lands. It's just not where the resource is located," Gruenspecht said.

 "Total natural gas production on federal lands has declined, mainly due to what's happening in the federal offshore. Onshore resources are a much larger share of total federal lands production for natural gas than they are for oil. Obviously the share of total natural gas supply produced by the federal offshore has declined dramatically since 1997...There's not much incentive to pursue natural gas offshore in the present price environment, present availability of onshore natural gas."

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