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Study: Barnett Shale Is Richer Than Previously Thought

Mark Graham
Texas Tribune
Fracking in Fort Worth in September 2013.

North Texas’ Barnett Shale — one of the country’s largest natural gas fields and the birthplace of modern fracking — holds even more reachable gas than previously thought, the federal government says.  

The U.S. Geological Survey says the 25-county region holds an average volume of about 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to its updated assessment released Thursday. That’s nearly twice as much gas as the agency estimated in 2003, before a mad dash of drillers transformed the landscape in North Texas.

The region's shale also holds about 172 million barrels of shale oil and 176 million barrels of natural gas liquids, the new estimate says.

More than a decade ago, the agency pegged the Barnett's undiscovered holdings at about 26.2 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered gas and 1 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. It did not bother to assess how much oil was trapped in the North Texas rock — assuming it was minimal.

But that was before George P. Mitchell pioneered the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that allowed companies to unlock resources long considered off limits, triggering a Texas-led petroleum boom in the United States.

The fracking revolution prompted the agency to take another look at how much natural gas operators could recover from the Barnett with new drilling techniques, Kristen Marra, a scientist with the Geological Survey, said in a statement.

The revised estimate drew cheers from oil and gas industry supporters, who have spent much of the year fretting about scaled-back production and worker layoffs due to plummeting oil prices — problems largely explained by the fracking-enabled drilling frenzy.

(A glut of cheap natural gas started slowing down activity a few years ago, as the Texas oil boom was just getting going.) 

"It's a testament to American ingenuity that we are still finding massive new supplies of natural gas, especially here in the place where the fracking boom began,” Steve Everley, a spokesman for the industry-funded group North Texans for Natural Gas, said in an email. "This new assessment is certainly good news for our energy security."

The Texas Tribune provided this story.