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The New Economy

US gas reserves up 35 percent, new estimate finds

By Ron Scherer / June 18, 2009

A worker drills at natural gas rig run by Quicksilver Resources in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2007.

M.L. Gray/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Newscom/file

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America's supply of natural gas is bigger – a lot bigger – than previously estimated.

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A new estimate of the clean-burning fuel finds that reserves are 35 percent higher than a prior estimate only three years ago. The US reserve base now stands at 1,836 trillion cubic feet, according to the Potential Gas Committee of the Colorado School of Mines, a nonprofit group that analyzes US reserves. That's the highest level of reserves the group has estimated in its 44-year history.

At current rates of consumption, US gas reserves would last 90 years, up eight years from the group's 2007 estimate.

“Our present assessment demonstrates an exceptionally strong and optimistic gas supply picture for the nation,” said John Curtis, director of the Potential Gas Agency, in a statement.

The natural gas industry hailed the new estimate. “Today’s report from the Potential Gas Committee is great news for North America,” said R. Skip Horvath, president of the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA) in Washington, in a statement.

The main reason for the increase is new technology, called hydraulic fracturing, that cracks gas-bearing formations of shale. Shale gas now represents one-third of US reserves.

The technology has resulted in a surge of drilling in places like Fort Worth, Texas, the Appalachian basin, the Gulf Coast, and the Rocky Mountains. The increase in natural gas production has provided individuals and communities with royalty checks during the down economy.

However, there have also been reports of small earthquakes in Texas, an area that is normally seismically quiet. So far, there is no conclusive evidence that the fracturing is responsible for the tremors, most of them minor.

The reserves might also be enhanced because demand is down with the economy in a recession. Business is a major user of natural gas.

In September 2007, the Potential Gas Committee also raised its estimate of natural gas reserves, saying it was equal to 82 years of production. It said then that that increase was due to success at extracting natural gas from shale formations in the Gulf of Mexico and from coal seams.

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