Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Haynesville


Haynesville Movie Trailer from Gregory Kallenberg on Vimeo.

I may have mentioned it a few times here, but my employer is a natural gas E&P company. We primarily produce gas from shale formations. This type of gas production is a relatively recent development in the history of oil and gas exploration. It has been made possible by the combination and gradual improvement of two technologies--directional drilling (the ability to curve the path of the drill bit) and hydraulic fracturing. This is needed because unlike other kind of rock where gas (and oil) are found, like sandstone, shale is basically impermeable. So we drill horizontally through a shale formation, then pump down water at super-high pressures to open tiny fractures in the shale, releasing the trapped gas.

It turns out that there are big, gas-bearing shale formations all over the USA (and probably all over the world). They are being produced right now in North Texas, north Louisana, northern Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. In the next year or so, we might see production come on line in New York State and even Poland.

Now think about this. All the big oil and gas finds for the past few decades have been found either in distant foreign countries or in remote areas like the North Slope of Alaska or in the Gulf of Mexico. The old Jed Clampett story of farmers sitting atop a sea of oil or gas has mostly passed into folklore--part of the great American myth.

Until now.

That's what Haynesville is about--in part. The Haynesville Shale is a large gas-bearing shale formation laying under northern Louisiana extending a bit into east Texas and southern Arkansas. It lies under lots of rural towns and farms and the small city of Shreveport. The filmmakers follow three people, each affected by the "gold rush" for acreage. The movie follows three people whose lives are changed by the coming of big gas companies writing big checks for lease agreements. I don't want to spoil it, but there is a degree of overnight wealth displayed in the movie, and it deals with what happens to people who get it. You definitely get a glimpse into small-town and rural Louisiana life--the pine forests and wetlands, the rundown semi-suburban houses on huge lots. I grew up playing in places like this, and the lives of these people rang pretty true to me.

In addition to the Haynesville folks, the movie talks to geologists and energy experts, including environmentalists and heavy-duty advocates of alternative energies. These guys, far from being against this gas boom, felt it was the best chance to transition into a clean energy future. They all admitted that America's energy needs could not be met by alternative energies. There are still obvious technical hurdles, not the least of which is the unreliability of alternate energy sources (the sun doesn't shine all day, and the wind sometimes doesn't blow). They spoke of the need to develop energy storage technology, as well as of the need to ramp alternate energy technologies up. But they were looking at a long time horizon.

In the meantime, they wanted gas as our main electrical generation fuel. They saw it as cleaner than coal (which it is, of course) and as producing more energy per ton of carbon dioxide produced. And a few mentioned American energy security, which domestic sources of natural gas help to provide.

The brilliant part was that the filmmakers quoted people from the alternative energy and environmental communities--but no one from energy companies. I happen to agree with the experts in Haynesville, but if you hear it from me (or T. Boone Pickens or some guy from the A.P.I.), it sounds totally self-interested. But the experts in Haynesville had no vested interest in gas, which makes them more credible.

The ironic part about the huge gas leases mentioned in the movie (up to $25,000 an acre plus royalties) is that they were the product of a boom mentality. It's felt that gas companies overpaid. Although the Haynesville Shale wells produce amazing quantities of gas, their decline rate is unusually steep. But these leases were made before the decline curve was known and while gas prices were skyrocketing. So if you were a Louisianan who was able to sign one of these monster leases, you were lucky!

I am really glad that this documentary was made. It's nice to see a feature film about one's own profession.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll give it a chance - but I have memories of the (first) oil boom in that area, and what it did to my great-grandfather's family.

The ecological consequences of the oil boom in that area took fifty years to begin to heal. The unrestrained brine dumps that killed all vegetation for hundreds of yards around each well are hardly visible any more.

Too, there is nothing like a sudden influx of a bunch of money into a land-poor family. Especially when it is unevenly distributed among the siblings.

My side was one of the dumb ones.

jd

4:01 AM  
Blogger Robert Boyd said...

I don't think people will let the next boom be quite as damaging ecologically. There are too many forces lined up against it. While I would not characterize the people I work with as environmentalists (I'd probably get punched in the nose if I did), I can tell you that there is a consciousness of environmental impacts that affect how we do it and how we want to do it in the future. I feel a little awkward saying that, because it does sound self-interested for a guy at a natural gas company to say, we care about the environment. Our job is to get gas out of the ground. But we also work to do it cleanly. 50 years ago, that was not as much a concern.

6:13 AM  

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