USGS issues much lower Marcellus gas estimate
There's gas in these hills, but not as much as previously thought, according to a recent government report.
In August, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated there is 84 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas in the Marcellus shale strata underlying the northeastern U.S.
In April, the non-profit Potential Gas Committee, a group of natural gas industry experts, estimated 350 trillion cubic feet. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which has come under congressional scrutiny, estimated 410 trillion cubic feet.
EIA officials said the EIA would defer to the USGS estimate, because geology is within the USGS area of expertise.
In June, the New York Times published two articles, quoting internal EIA emails, that brought the agency's Marcellus gas estimates into question. Massachusetts congressman Ed Markey, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, requested that EIA director Richard Newell explain the agency's methodology for shale gas estimates.
In a June 27 press statement, Markey wrote that speculation might be behind some of the EIA's optimistic numbers.
"We need to know whether the natural gas located underneath the surface is a real source of fuel for the next generation, or a speculative bubble hyped by the oil and gas industry, and echoed by the federal government's energy experts," he wrote.
On June 29, EIA acting director Howard Gruenspecht defended the agency's methodology before Congress, but the decision to reduce the Marcellus gas estimate by 80-percent likely will increase scrutiny of the EIA, a branch of the Department of Energy
The USGS estimate is a "resource" estimate, as opposed to a "reserve" estimate. A resource estimate refers to the total amount of gas that can be extracted from the shale. A reserve estimate refers to how much of that gas would be economically profitable to extract.