Energy Resources Lying Beneath Our Feet

By March 4, 2007Energy

Thanks to technological advances, corporate risk-taking and investment by energy companies, Arkansas is emerging as the next leading state in natural gas production. The Fayette Shale field could prove as nearly as productive as the Barnett Field in north Texas, which produced 630 billion cubic feet of natural gas last year. The AP reports:

Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co. did not discover the Fayetteville Shale nor invent the technology to shatter its hold on a buried treasure, but it and its Arkansas subsidiary, SEECO Inc., discovered that it held commercial potential like the Barnett.

Also important, Southwestern Energy was willing to place a bet — up to $700 million by the end of last year and another $900 million in 2007 — that new “frac treatment” technology used in the Barnett could also be used here.

“We ‘discovered’ an idea,” says Harold M. Korell, Southwestern Energy’s chairman, president and chief executive officer. “But until we started drilling wells, we didn’t know it would produce gas. I was very excited in 2002 as the pieces were coming together.”

As NAM President John Engler pointed out last month in releasing the NAM’s energy plan, “Energy Security for American Competitiveness,” research and development produces the kind of technological breakthroughs — in this case, water frac treatment — that allows the profitable development of previously unattainable energy resources, such as the Barnett Field’s natural gas. As Gov. Engler said,

There’s a lot of shale in this country, and a lot more exploration to be done. The R&D part is an essential part of how we strive for energy security.

There is indeed a lot of shale in this country.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Energy companies are scrambling for drilling rights in north-central Alabama, where geologists have discovered a natural gas formation with the potential to rival any in the country.

Drillers have bought gas rights on 500,000 acres in and around St. Clair County during the past two years, paying up to $500 an acre plus a share of potential revenues. They now want state permission to begin widespread production on 40 square miles in and around Ashville, 37 miles northeast of Birmingham, according to Alabama Oil and Gas Board records. The site’s proposed name is the Big Canoe Creek Field.

Geologists compare the area’s potential to that of a legendary North Texas natural gas field called the Barnett Shale, which has grown to 5,000 square miles and produces more energy than any other onshore gas field in the country.

All the research in the world will just sit on computer hard-drives unless companies and stockholders make the investments that put it to use. Thank goodness for profits, a powerful, indeed essential, incentive for achieving energy security.