Newest evidence that oil and gas resources are finite and we need to focus on clean energy solutions

If you listen to the oil and gas industry, American can go on forever depending on dirty fossil fuels.

Some people define "forever" differently than others. The Great Law of the Iriquois nations says: "Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground -- the unborn of the future Nation."

Researchers from the University of Texas have published a peer-reviewed paper that details the rapid decline of shale gas well production. They reviewed data for more than 8,000 wells over a ten-year period, and found that “many wells are on track to produce only about 10 percent of their potential” and “most horizontal wells for which predictions are possible underperform their theoretical production limits.”

Why is this important? Here’s the cold hard truth from the lead researcher on this paper, Dr. Tad Patzek, who is the chairman of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas:

 “So these wells can produce at low rates for probably 25, 30 years. But in order for us to get the very high rates we need to run our economy, we need to drill more and more of them. So the question is, can we drill enough of these initially high-producing wells to offset the declines of the older wells?

For the time being, we have been winning this game by drilling massive numbers of wells, but with time it will be more and more difficult. So the production, after a while, will decline ultimately. And we as a country have to understand that this is inevitably going to happen.”

The same rapid decline is also an issue with oil wells as gas wells in shale formations. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle’s FuelFix concluded:

“Behind the headlines boasting of a U.S. oil boom, producers have been grappling with rapid production declines at aging shale-play wells. The only answer: drill more and more wells.”

According to an official from the U.S. Energy Information Administration: "For every 100 barrels you produce from new Bakken wells, 70 barrels of that go just to replace the decline from old wells.”

Dr. Patzek has calculated that the cost of drilling horizontal wells in Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Arkansas has been about $240 billion over the last five years.

How much clean energy via efficiency or renewables would that have bought the U.S.? 

About the Authors

Amy Mall

Senior Policy Analyst, Land & Wildlife program

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