Appalachian Basin

Dr. Chastko Educates Ohio University Zanesville on Shale Developments Long History


Ohio University-Zanesville hosted Dr. Paul Chastko, faculty member at the University of Calgary and Ohio University Alumni, yesterday for a lecture on natural gas development as part of their Kennedy Lecture Series.  The talk did not center around Ohio’s rich 150 year history in which we have produced 1.1 billion barrels of oil and 8.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but gave the audience a look at shale development as it has matured since its original conception in the 1970’s.  

Dr. Chastko explained that shale development traces its roots to the energy crisis of the 1970’s.  As many remember these were dark days for America.  Electricity and gas were rationed while Americans feared that we somehow did not have enough energy to meet our needs.   Through Presidents Ford and Carter, research and development was put into place to ensure that our nation could meet its energy needs.  

Through this research, the beginnings of today’s shale exploration began to take place. As a response to the “oil shocks” as Dr. Chastko refers to the energy crisis, the government stepped in to help research how to best secure the United States energy future.  

To do that, three main research components happened that would help revolutionize today’s current energy portfolio in regards to shale development. First there was the Eastern Shales Gas Project.  A project that was formed by the United States Geologic Survey in 1976 under President Ford to examine producing oil and natural gas from shale formations.

“The Eastern Shales Gas Project that basically begins in 1976 and again it is part of a relationship, an emerging partnership between the public and private sector.  Part of the Eastern Gas Shales Project was designed to demonstrate the feasibility, the viability of developing shale gases.  One of the spin off effects of that is that it begins to contribute to the development of horizontal drilling.”

The next major development was through a public/private partnership between General Electric and the Energy Research and Development Administration or what would be later known as the Department of Energy.  Through their research in boring through hot rocks for geothermal heating, they found that diamond studded drill bits were extremely effective to bore through high density rock. 

“A result of a partnership between General Electric and the Energy Research and Development Administration, a precursor to the Department of Energy which basically begins work on another project, a geothermal project.  Basically the idea was to drill into hot rocks and see if you could liberate more energy from that.  And what it is they developed is a better drill bit, the diamond studded drill bit.  We are not talking about revolutionary changes but evolutionary changes.”

The third development which  had a profound effect on shale development and all oil and gas exploration since the 70’s is the increased use of computers for 3D seismic testing.  This technology for the first time provided the ability to map structures and formations to get a better, more accurate look at what the resources they held so companies could better target their activities underground.  This development helped revolutionized oil and natural gas development through out the world.These developments gave us the tools to develop today’s shale resources. 

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico where the U.S. received a significant portion of their natural gas.  Katrina affected 21% of the US natural gas supply and 80% of the supply shut in for a few months.  This event made many think about our nation’s energy security.  

“What was significant about Hurricane Katrina is that when it made landfall off the Gulf Coast of the United States, is that is happened to pass through the most densely packed area of energy related areas in North America.  As it made landfall it struck into Gulf Coast refining facilities along the Louisiana border.  Now what was particularly significant is that it began to knock out production and as it knocked out production in terms of natural gas and in terms of petroleum.  You may remember there were some dramatic changes that began to take place in terms of energy” 

Indeed, shale development has replenished our nation’s natural gas reserves and has strengthened our energy security by increasing and diversifying our energy supplies.  For example, in 2005 we had 1,500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.  Now thanks to shale development, we are near 3,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in the United States.  

Today the Utica, Bakken, Marcellus, Eagle Ford and many other shaly plays are  being developed to help provide the U.S. with a geographicly diverse energy supply that will secure our energy future and help protect us from spikes in energy prices caused by natural disasters and service disruptions. 

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