The U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) has raised its estimate of probable recoverable natural gas in the deep shelf area of the Gulf of Mexico by 175%, from 20 Tcf to 55 Tcf.

MMS Director R. M. “Johnnie” Burton announced the Interior Department agency’s new resource estimate during a news conference in Houston Wednesday. Shallow water, deep shelf gas is defined as gas that lies 15,000 feet or greater below the outer continental shelf in water depths up to 656 feet. Much of the deep shelf is accessible to energy producers from existing infrastructure in the Gulf.

According to MMS officials, new data, and a better understanding of the deep gas potential due to recent discoveries have led them to increase their resource estimate. Deep shelf gas has been difficult to pinpoint using conventional seismics. The MMS uses a complex series of calculations to account for the probability of discovering recoverable amounts of gas. The new estimate is seen as the possible greatest amount of natural gas in this region.

Overall, deep shelf gas production has increased by an estimated 137 Bcf between 2000 and 2002. Production in 2000 was 284 Bcf, while an estimated 421 Bcf was produced in 2002. New wells coming online could help raise this production level. So far this year 66 new deep shelf wells have been started by energy producers. Overall GOM natural gas production in 2002 was 4.5 Tcf, down from 5 Tcf and proved reserves were 25.4 Tcf, down from 27.1 Tcf.

MMS revised its estimate based on:

Burton called the new estimate “a very hopeful sign of where additional natural gas supplies may be found for the American public. It is imperative to find diverse sources of natural gas. Transportation of liquefied natural gas via tankers will be very helpful. But, gas discovered domestically in very deep waters of the Gulf or in shallow waters but deep into the shelf remains a key supply source.”

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