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What Is Tight Gas, and How Is It Produced?

While conventional natural gas streams from the earth relatively easily, unconventional gas finds are more difficult to develop and more costly to produce. As technologies and skills improve, unconventional gas is a variable concept because some finds may become more easily or economically produced over time, no longer making them unconventional. Right now, there are six main types of unconventional gas, including deep gas, gas-containing shales, coalbed methane, geopressurized zones, Arctic and subsea hydrates, and tight gas.

Major Tight Gas Reserves in the USSource: EIA,

Unconventional natural gas deposits are likely to account for much of the world's remaining reserves. According to the EIA, there is more than 309 Tcf of recoverable tight natural gas deposits in the US, which represents some 17% of the total natural gas reserves in the country. Helping to boost interest in developing technologies that can overcome the challenges of producing unconventional gas resources in the United States, the Natural Gas Policy Act offers incentives to companies exploring for and producing unconventional gas plays.

What Is Tight Gas?

Tight gas refers to natural gas reservoirs locked in extraordinarily impermeable, hard rock, making the underground formation extremely "tight." Tight gas can also be trapped in sandstone or limestone formations that are atypically impermeable or nonporous, also known as tight sand.

Impermeable Pores in Tight Gas FormationSource: USGS,

While a conventional gas formation can be relatively easily drilled and extracted from the ground unassisted, tight gas requires more effort to pull it from the ground because of the extremely tight formation in which it is located. In other words, the pores in the rock formation in which the gas is trapped are either irregularly distributed or badly connected with overly narrow capillaries, lessening permeability -- or the ability of the gas to travel through the rock. Without secondary production methods, gas from a tight formation would flow at very slow rates, making production uneconomical. While conventional gas formations tend to be found in the younger Tertiary basins, tight gas formations are much older. Deposited some 248 million years ago, tight gas formations are typically found in Palaeozoic formations. Over time, the rock formations have been compacted and have undergone cementation and recrystallisation, which all reduce the level of permeability in the rock. Typical conventional natural gas deposits boast a permeability level of .01 to .5 darcy, but the formations trapping tight gas reserves portray permeability levels of merely a fraction of that, measuring in the millidarcy or microdarcy range. In order to overcome the challenges that the tight formation presents, there are a number of additional procedures that can be enacted to help produce tight gas. Deviating drilling practices and more specific seismic data can help in tapping tight gas, as well as artificial stimulation, such as fracturing and acidizing.

Developing Tight Gas

One of the most important aspects of drilling for any petroleum is predetermining the success rate of the operation. Operators do not just drill anywhere. Extensive seismic data is gathered and analyzed to determine where to drill and just what might be located below the earth's surface. These seismic surveys can help to pinpoint the best areas to tap tight gas reserves. A survey might be able to locate an area that portrays an improved porosity or permeability in the rock in

which the gas is located. Should wells directly hit the best area to develop the reserve, costs of development can be minimized. Most tight gas formations are found onshore, and land seismic techniques are undergoing transformations to better map out where drilling and development of these unconventional plays. Typical land seismic techniques include exploding dynamite and vibroseis, or measuring vibrations produced by purpose-built trucks. While these techniques can produce informational surveys, advancements inmarine seismic technologies are now being applied to land seismic surveys, enhancing the information available about the world below. Not only providing operators with the best locations for drilling wells into tight gas formations, extensive seismic surveys can help drilling engineers determine where and to what extent drilling directions should be deviated.

Directional DrillingSource: MacKenzie Gas Project,

While vertical wells may be easier and less expensive to drill, they are not the most conducive to developing tight gas. In a tight gas formation, it is important to expose as much of the reservoir as possible, making horizontal and directional drilling a must. Here, the well can run along the formation, opening up more opportunities for the natural gas to enter the wellbore. A common technique for developing tight gas reserves includes drilling more wells. The more the formation is tapped, the more the gas will be able to escape the formation. This can be achieved through drilling myriad directional wells from one location, lessening the operator's footprint and lowering costs.

Production Stimulation

After seismic data has illuminated the best well locations, and the wells have been drilled, production stimulation is employed on tight gas reservoirs to promote a greater rate of flow. Production stimulation can be achieved on tight gas reservoirs through both fracturing and acidizing the wells. Fracturing, also known as "fracing," a well involves breaking the rocks in the formation apart. Performed after the well has been drilled andcompleted, hydraulic fracturing is achieved by pumping the well full of frac fluids under high pressure to break the rocks in the reservoir apart and improve permeability, or the ability of the gas to flow through the formation. Additionally, acidizing the well is employed to improve permeability and production rates of tight gas formations. Acidation involves pumping the well with acids that dissolve the limestone, dolomite and calcite cement between the sediment grains of the reservoir rocks. This form of production stimulation helps to reinvigorate permeability by reestablishing the natural fissures that were present in the formation before compaction and cementation. Furthermore, deliquification of the tight gas wells can help to overcome some production challenges. In many tight gas formations, the reservoirs also contain small amounts of water. This water can collect and undermine production processes. Deliquification is achieved in this instance through artificial lift techniques, such as using a beam pumping system to remove the water from the reservoir, although this has not proven the most effective way to overcome this challenge. Engineers continue to develop new techniques and technologies to better produce tight gas. Through their efforts, maybe one day, tight gas will no longer be considered an unconventional play.

How Does LNG Work?

Because of its physical state, natural gas is inherently a domestic product. As a gas, the hydrocarbon must be transported by pipeline, which restricts the number of end users. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) was developed in 1964 as a solution to this problem. With LNG, gas is liquefied and transported internationally via tankers and then regasified into its original state for distribution and sale. Additionally, the hydrocarbon takes up significantly less space as a liquid than a gas; LNG is approximately 1/600th the volume of the same amount of natural gas.

LNG Liquefaction PlantSource: Center for Liquefied Natural Gas

LNG has transformed the natural gas market, making previously unrecoverable natural gas finds an economic reality. In other words, stranded gas reservoirs, for which pipelines were too costly to construct, can now be produced, transformed into LNG and transported via tanker.

When in the reservoir, natural gas is found in three states: non-associated, where there is no oil contact; gas cap, where it is overlying an oil reserve; and associated gas, which is dissolved in the oil. The composition of the natural gas defines how it will be processed for transport. Whether staying in its gaseous state or being transformed into a liquid, natural gas from the well must undergo separation processes to remove water, acid gases and heavy hydrocarbons from the recovered natural gas. The next step in processing is determined by what type of transport the gas will undergo, and specifications are met according to the transportation system. For LNG, additional processing is required before the condensation of the gas to remove the threat of crystallization in the heat exchangers in the liquefaction plant. When chemical conversion is used to liquefy natural gas, the conversion process determines which preliminary process must be used. Additionally, fractionation between methane and heavier hydrocarbons is performed during liquefaction. This way, after regasification the fuel can be loaded directing into the distribution network of pipelines.

LNG Liquefaction PlantSource: Center for Liquefied Natural Gas

Natural gas is liquefied by lowering the temperature of the hydrocarbon to approximately -260 degrees Fahrenheit (-160 degrees Celsius). This temperature drop liquefies the methane present in the natural gas, making transportation at atmospheric pressure in the form of LNG possible. LNG is mainly constituted of methane and generally contains ethane, as well. Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) may also be present in the LNG.

LNG is then introduced into specially insulated tankers and transported around the world. LNG is kept in its liquid form via autorefrigeration. This is a process in which the fuel is kept at its boiling point. Through autorefrigeration any additions of heat are offset by the energy lost from the LNG vapor, vented out of the storage and used to power the tanker.

LNG Being Loaded Onto a TankerSource: Center for Liquefied Natural Gas

LNG Tanker at SeaSource: Center for Liquefied Natural Gas

LNG has little to no chance of igniting or exploding should a spill occur. When LNG is vaporized into its gaseous form, the fuel will only burn when mixed with air in concentrations of 5 and 15%. Additionally, LNG and the vapors associated with it do not explode in an open environment.


LNG Regasification PlantSource: Center for Liquefied Natural Gas

Once it has reached its destination, the LNG is offloaded from the tanker and either stored or regasified. The LNG is dehydrated into a gaseous state again through a process that involves passing the LNG through a series of vaporizers that reheat the fuel above the -260 degree Fahrenheit (-160 degrees Celsius) temperature mark. The fuel is then sent via established transportation methods, such as pipelines, to the end users.


Although limited because of the number of liquefaction and regasification facilities located worldwide, LNG is gaining momentum. Major ongoing LNG projects include the multi-billiondollar GorgonLNG project in Australia, as well as the Olokola LNG project in Nigeria and the LionGas LNG project in the Netherlands. According to the EIA, countries in Asia Pacific are the largest exporters of LNG, and the Middle East is also a leading LNG exporting region. Historically some of the largest importers of LNG, Japan and South Korea depend almost solely on internationally produced LNG for their natural gas needs. European countries also import a large percentage of the LNG produced globally. Emerging markets for the fuel are China and India, although those countries are currently pursuing major pipeline deals in an effort to increase their natural gas imports. Currently, LNG represents only about 1% of the natural gas consumed in the United States. Right now, the country imports LNG from Trinidad and Tobago, Qatar, Algeria, Nigeria, Oman, Australia, Indonesia and the UAE. According to the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), there are currently eight LNG processing facilities in operation in the country; seven are regasification plants, and one is a liquefaction facility. Presently, there are 40 additional LNG projects under consideration in the US. LNG imports are expected to increase to an average of 15.8% or 4.8 Tcf of the natural gas used in the US by 2025.

Shale gas
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For gas generated by oil shale pyrolysis, see Oil shale gas.

48 Shale basins in 38 nations, per the EIA

Shale gas is natural gas produced from shale. Shale gas has become an increasingly important source of natural gas in the United States over the past decade, and interest has spread to potential gas shales in the rest of the world. One analyst expects shale gas to supply as much as half the natural gas production in North America by 2020.[1][dead link] Some analysts expect that shale gas will greatly expand worldwide energy supply.[2] A study by the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University concluded that increased shale gas production in the US and Canada could help prevent Russia and Persian Gulf countries from dictating higher prices for the gas it exports to European countries.[3] The Obama administration believes that increased shale gas development will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.[4]However, there is growing evidence that the extraction and use of shale gas results in the release of more greenhouse gases than conventional natural gas, and may lead to emissions greater than those of oil or coal.[5]

1 Geolog y 2 Enviro nment 3 Econo mics 4 See also 5 Refere nces 6 Extern al links


Illustration of shale gas compared to other types of gas deposits.

Because shales ordinarily have insufficient permeability to allow significant fluid flow to a well bore, most shales are not commercial sources of natural gas. Shale gas is one of a number of unconventional sources of natural gas; other unconventional sources of natural gas includecoalbed methane, tight sandstones, and methane hydrates. Shale gas areas are often known asresource plays[6] (as opposed to exploration plays). The geological risk of not finding gas is low in resource plays, but the potential profits per successful well are usually also lower.[citation needed] Shale has low matrix permeability, so gas production in commercial quantities requires fractures to provide permeability. Shale gas has been produced for years from shales with natural fractures; the shale gas boom in recent years has been due to modern technology in hydraulic fracturing(fracking) to create extensive artificial fractures around well bores.[citation needed] Horizontal drilling is often used with shale gas wells, with lateral lengths up to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) within the shale, to create maximum borehole surface area in contact with the shale.[citation needed] Shales that host economic quantities of gas have a number of common properties. They are rich in organic material (0.5% to 25%),[7] and are usually mature petroleum source rocks in the thermogenic gas window, where high heat and pressure have converted petroleum to natural gas. They are sufficiently brittle and rigid enough to maintain open fractures. In some areas, shale intervals with high natural gamma radiationare the most productive, as high gamma radiation is often correlated with high organic carbon content.[citation needed] Some of the gas produced is held in natural fractures, some in pore spaces, and some is adsorbed onto the organic material. The gas in the fractures is produced immediately; the gas adsorbed onto organic material is released as the formation pressure is drawn down by the well.[citation needed]

See also: Environmental and health effects of hydraulic fracturing As noted above, US President Obama's administration has sometimes promoted shale gas, in part because of their belief that it releases fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than other fossil fuels. However, there is evidence that shale gas emits more greenhouse gases than does conventional natural gas, and may emit as much or more than oil or coal. In a May 2010 letter to US President Obama, the Council of Scientific Society Presidents[8] urged great caution against a national policy of developing shale gas without a better scientific basis for the policy. This umbrella organization that represents 1.4 million scientists noted that shale gas might

actually aggravate global warming, rather than help mitigate it. In late 2010, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency[9] issued a new report, the first update on emission factors for greenhouse gas emissions by the oil and gas industry by the EPA since 1996. In this new report, EPA concluded that shale gas emits much larger amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than does conventional gas. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, although it stays in the atmosphere for only one tenth as long a period as carbon dioxide. Recent evidence indicates that methane has a global warming potential that is 105-fold greater than carbon dioxide when viewed over a 20-year period and 33-fold greater when viewed over a 100-year period, compared mass-to-mass.[10] A recent 2011 study in Climatic Change Letters provides the first comprehensive analysis of the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas.[11] In that peer-reviewed paper, Cornell University professor Robert W. Howarth and colleagues find that once methane leak and venting impacts are included, the life-cycle greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas is far worse than those of coal and fuel oil when viewed for the integrated 20-year period after emission. On the 100-year integrated time frame, this analysis finds shale gas comparable to coal and worse than fuel oil. Chemicals are added to the water to facilitate the underground fracturing process that releases natural gas. Only about 50% to 70% of the resulting volume of contaminated water is recovered and stored in above-ground ponds to await removal by tanker. The remaining "produced water" is left in the earth where it can lead to contamination of groundwater aquifers, though the industry deems this "highly unlikely". However the wastewater from such operations often lead to foul-smelling odors and heavy metals contaminating the local water supply above-ground. [12] The 2010 U.S. documentary film Gasland by Josh Fox, which focuses on the impact of hydraulic fracturing, is critical of the industry's assertions of its safety and its exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. A study published in May 2011 concluded that fracking has seriously contaminated shallow groundwater supplies in northeast Pennsylvania with flammable methane. However the study does not discuss how pervasive such contamination might be in other areas where drilling for shale gas has taken place.[13] The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced June 23, 2011 that it will examine claims of water pollution related to hydraulic fracturing in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Louisiana. [14] On December 8, 2011, the EPA issued a draft finding which stated that groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming may be the result of fracking in the area. The EPA stated that the finding was specific to the Pavillion area, where the fracking techniques differ from those used in other parts of the U.S. Doug Hock, a spokesman for the company which owns the Pavillion gas field, said that it is unclear whether the contamination came from the fracking process.[15] A 2011 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that "The environmental impacts of shale development are challenging but manageable." The study addressed groundwater contamination, noting

"There has been concern that these fractures can also penetrate shallow freshwater zones and contaminate them with fracturing uid, but there is no evidence that this is occurring". This study blames known instances of methane contamination on a small number of sub-standard operations, and encourages the use of industry best practices to prevent such events from recurring. [16]

Although shale gas has been produced for more than 100 years in the Appalachian Basin and the Illinois Basin of the United States, the wells were often marginally economical. Higher natural-gas prices in recent years[when?] and advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal completions have made shale-gas wells more profitable.[17] As of June 2011, the validity of the claims of economic viability of these wells has begun to be publicly questioned.[18] Shale gas tends to cost more to produce than gas from conventional wells, because of the expense of the massive hydraulic fracturing treatments required to produce shale gas, and of horizontal drilling. However, this is often offset by the low risk of shale-gas wells.[citation needed] As of 2011 all successful shale-gas wells have exploited Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks.[citation needed] North America has been the leader in developing and producing shale gas. The great economic success of the Barnett Shale play in Texas in particular has spurred the search for other sources of shale gas across the United States and Canada.[citation needed] Research has calculated the 2011 worth of the global shale-gas market as $26.66bn.[19] However, a June, 2011 New York Times investigation of industrial emails and internal documents found that the financial benefits of unconventional shale gas extraction may be less than previously thought, due to companies intentionally overstating the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves.[20]



Shale gas by country Hydraulic fracturing


Shale is a fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock composed of mud that is a mix of flakes ofclay minerals and tiny fragments (silt-sized particles) of other minerals, especially quartz andcalcite. The ratio of clay to other minerals is variable.[1] Shale is characterized by breaks along thin laminae or parallel layering or bedding less than one centimeter in thickness, calledfissility.[1] Mudstones, on the other hand, are similar in composition but do not show the fissility.

1 Texture 2 Composition and color 3 Formation 4 See also 5 References

[edit]Texture Shale typically exhibits varying degrees of fissility breaking into thin layers, often splintery and usually parallel to the otherwise indistinguishable bedding plane because of parallel orientation of clay mineral flakes.[1] Non-fissile rocks of similar composition but made of particles smaller than 0.06 mm are described as mudstones (1/3 to 2/3 silt particles) or claystone (less than 1/3 silt). Rocks with similar particle sizes but with less clay (greater than 2/3 silt) and therefore grittier are siltstones.[1] Shale is the most common sedimentary rock.[2]

Sample of drill cuttings of shale while drilling an oil well in Louisiana. Sand grain = 2 mm. in dia.


and color

Shales are typically composed of variable amounts of clay minerals and quartz grains and the typical color is gray. Addition of variable amounts of minor constituents alters the color of the rock. Black shale results from the presence of greater than one percent carbonaceous material and indicates a reducing environment.[1] Black shale can also be referred to as black metal.[3] Red, brown and green colors are indicative of ferric oxide (hematite - reds), iron hydroxide (goethite - browns and limonite yellow), or micaceous minerals (chlorite, biotite and illite - greens).[1] Clays are the major constituent of shales and other mudrocks. The clay minerals represented are largely kaolinite, montmorillonite and illite. Clay minerals of Late Tertiary mudstones are expandable smectites whereas in older rocks especially in mid to early Paleozoic shales illites predominate. The transformation of smectite to illite produces silica, sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron and water. These released elements

form authigenic quartz, chert, calcite,dolomite, ankerite, hematite and albite, all trace to minor (except quartz) minerals found in shales and other mudrocks.[1] Shales and mudrocks contain roughly 95 percent of the organic matter in all sedimentary rocks. However, this amounts to less than one percent by mass in an average shale. Black shales which form in anoxic conditions contain reduced free carbon along with ferrous iron (Fe2+) and sulfur (S2-). Pyrite and amorphous iron sulfide along with carbon produce the black and purple coloration .[1] [edit]Formation

Limey shale overlaid by limestone,Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee

The process in the rock cycle which forms shale is compaction. The fine particles that compose shale can remain suspended in water long after the larger and denser particles of sand have deposited. Shales are typically deposited in very slow moving water and are often found in lakes and lagoonal deposits, in river deltas, on floodplains and offshore from beach sands. They can also be deposited on the continental shelf, in relatively deep, quiet water. This process could have taken millions of years to complete. 'Black shales' are dark, as a result of being especially rich in unoxidized carbon. Common in somePaleozoic and Mesozoic strata, black shales were deposited in anoxic, reducing environments, such as in stagnant water columns. Some black shales contain abundant heavy metals such as molybdenum, uranium, vanadium, and zinc.[4][5][6] The enriched values are of controversial origin, having been alternatively attributed to input from hydrothermal fluids during or after sedimentation or to slow accumulation from sea water over long periods of sedimentation.[5][7][8]

Splitting shale with a large knife to reveal fossils

Fossils, animal tracks/burrows and even raindrop impact craters are sometimes preserved on shale bedding surfaces. Shales may also contain concretions consisting of pyrite, apatite, or various carbonate minerals. Shales that are subject to heat and pressure of metamorphism alter into a hard, fissile,metamorphic rock known as slate. With continued increase in metamorphic grade the sequence isphyllite, then schist and finally to gneiss.

Weathering shale at a road cut in southeastern Kentucky

Horizontal Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing

Over the past decade, the combination of horizontal drilling andhydraulic fracturing has allowed access to large volumes of shale gas that were previously uneconomical to produce. The production of natural gas from shale formations has rejuvenated the natural gas industry in the United States.

What is a Shale "Play"?

Shale gas is found in shale "plays," which are shale formations containing significant accumulations of natural gas and which share similar geologic and geographic properties. A decade of production has come from theBarnett Shale play in Texas. Experience and information gained from developing the Barnett Shale have improved the efficiency of shale gas development around the country.

Horizontal Drilling
Two major drilling techniques are used to produce shale gas.Horizontal drilling is used to provide greater access to the gas trapped deep in the producing formation. First, a vertical well is drilled to the targeted rock formation. At the desired depth, the drill bit is turned to bore a well that stretches through the reservoir horizontally, exposing the well to more of the producing shale.

Hydraulic Fracturing
Hydraulic fracturing (commonly called "fracking" or "hydrofracking") is a technique in which water, chemicals, and sand are pumped into the well to unlock the hydrocarbons trapped in shale formations by opening cracks (fractures) in the rock and allowing natural gas to flow from the shale into the well. When used in conjunction with horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing enables gas producers to extract shale gas at reasonable cost. Without these techniques, natural gas does not flow to the well rapidly, and commercial quantities cannot be produced from shale.

Did You Know? Shale gas in 2009 made up 14% of total U.S. natural gas supply. Production of shale gas is expected to continue to increase, and constitute 45% of U.S. total natural gas supply in 2035, as projected in the EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2011.

Shale Gas vs. Conventional Gas

Conventional gas reservoirs are created when natural gas migrates toward the Earth's surface from an organic-rich source formation into highly permeable reservoir rock, where it is trapped by an overlying layer of impermeable rock. In contrast, shale gas resources form within the organic-rich shale source rock. The low permeability of the shale greatly inhibits the gas from migrating to more permeable reservoir rocks. Without horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, shale gas production would not be economically feasible because the natural gas would not flow from the formation at high enough rates to justify the cost of drilling.

Shale Gas Forcast

Chart showing the shale gas forcast from the EIA, Annual Energy Outlook 2011. Image by EIA.