The Barnett Shale play contains one of North America’s largest onshore natural gas fields. The north-central Texas’ Fort Worth Basin contains trillions of cubic feet of reserves in an area spanning about 5,000 square miles across about 20 Texas counties. Core O&G production areas are in Denton, Johnson, Tarrant, Dallas, and Wise counties, where the shale is thicker and allows for easier drilling and more productive wells.
Barnett’s Specific O&G Challenges
Barnett is one of the most mature U.S. shale plays, and has influenced E&P practices for subsequent plays. Regardless, the Barnett holds its share of complications.
This deep play (6,500-8,500 feet) requires complex drilling methods, such as multi-stage fracking, for successful extraction. As a “tight” gas reservoir, gas is not easily extracted from this very hard shale. Current techniques only extract an estimated 10%-15% of available reserves.
Urban drilling also poses a critical obstacle. Major portions of the Barnett are in metropolitan centers, including the rapidly expanding Dallas-Fort Worth area. Technicians are researching ways to drill in highly populated areas without disrupting established commercial activities or harming neighborhoods.
Barnett’s Top Producers
The Barnett has produced more than 13 trillion cubic feet of natural gas since 1993. The play is speculated to hold about 44 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (24 trillion cubic feet is technically recoverable), with daily production topping 3-4 billion cubic feet.
To date, some 18,500 wells have been completed (see table below)
Of the 235 operator’s active in the Barnett, the table below highlights the 10 most productive:
Some analysts speculate that the Barnett is already on a permanent downturn. In 2011, the number of active rigs fell to a 7-year low, and drilling is down overall in the Barnett.
Despite this tapered production, some larger companies cite sustained success through increased well efficiencies via longer horizontal sections, improved completion technology, and “pad drilling” with multiple wells from a single location. They note that, at the same time as the rig count plummeted, aggregate field production reached an all-time high of 5.6 Bcfgd, surpassing the previous record 5.3 Bcfgd from 2008.
Barnett wells are typically very productive for long periods of time, and production stays level after initial declines in the first few years. The graph shows that even with reduced drilling activity, production increased to its September 2011 peak of 6 million cubic feet of gas per day:
Additionally, the “Combo Play” holds promise. This northern section of the Fort Worth basin, 90,000 acres primarily in Montague and Cooke counties, holds 55% natural gas liquids (NGL) and “pure gas.” Production is more prolific here due to thicker shale (1,400-1,700 feet thick, compared to just 50-1,000 feet in the Barnett’s core production areas) and its middle limestone layer that facilitates hydraulic fracking. Optimism remains strong among operators that can maintain well efficiencies and produce enough gas to stay profitable.
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