Friends of New York Times See Natural Gas Rig “Forest” but Miss the Truth

In his “Dot Earth” blog for The New York Times, writer Andrew Revkin recently wrote (8/31/12) that a  frequent talking point for natural gas foes is “the prospect of gas companies poised to deploy a forest of rigs to drill 50,000 wells.”  A forest of rigs would indeed be a frightening prospect, but it’s really nowhere on the horizon – not now, nor ever.

At last report (8/31/12), the drill rig count for the entire United States — rigs currently in use, that is — was 1,894, and half those rigs were gainfully employed in Texas.  The remainder was divided among 28 other states.  Incidentally, 1,421 of the rigs were being used to develop oil, and only 473, or 25 percent of the total, were being used to develop gas.

How many rigs might really be deployed in New York?   For a “worst case” scenario we can turn to the Bakken formation, which underlies about 200,000 square miles, mostly in North Dakota.  The Bakken is the scene of the biggest oil boom in the Lower 48 and yet the state’s industrial commission reported that just 210 rigs were operating in North Dakota in early July 2012, and state regulators suggest they’re not expecting the rig count to climb significantly.

One rig “tree” in place for but a few weeks doesn’t create anything but an interesting sight.

The Bakken Shale produces oil, not natural gas and, given current market prices, oil is endlessly more attractive to gas companies than the so-called dry gas produced by the Marcellus Shale in northeastern Pennsylvania and neighboring New York State.  And, yet only 200 or so rigs were active in the Bakken Shale.

There’s no doubt that the Marcellus Shale has produced prodigious quantities of natural gas in a narrow strip of land just south of the New York-Pennsylvania line — in northern Sullivan, Bradford and Susquehanna Counties.  But, geologists opine that the Marcellus in New York State will not produce at anything like that level.  Gas wells in the Southern Tier of New York are expected to be good producers, but nothing spectacular.

Natural Gas Well Pad

Natural gas well pad in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania (following development and removal of rig)

And rigs don’t come cheap, incidentally: A rig of sufficient size and power to drill a well in the Marcellus Shale will cost somewhere between $5 million and $10 million new and between $1 million and $5 million used.  You just don’t go out and buy one of these every day.

So when and if development begins in the Marcellus play in New York State, maybe we’ll see a hundred rigs operating in the state one day — a very generous guess, really.  Now, let’s assume that development will be limited to Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties, as Gov. Cuomo has hinted. Together, those counties cover 3,952 square miles. E ven if you crowded 100 rigs into that limited area, you’d be averaging just one rig per 39.5 square miles.

That’s still nowhere near a “forest.”


  1. Victor Furman says:

    1500 windmills failed to work but still kills 10,000 birds a year including 300 bald eagles 500 falcons…well here you read clic on baby

  2. fred jones says:

    Looking at the geology of the Marcellus and where the sweet spots are in NY, I have to concur with this article. With this said, why are both sides so worked up over what is essentially, nothing? It is too bad neighbor has been pitted against neighbor in this long argument, when, by this account (on EID), the southern most regions will benefit from HVHF. It also seems counterproductive for EID employees to cover counties and towns out of the NG zone to report on bans and moratoriums? If a town or county in an area where virtually no “wet plays” or substantial dry plays exist, why is EID stirring the proverbial pot in those communities. I suppose to make a point that like politics, good folks are divided? Nothing new. Where I live, on the fringe of the Marcellus, odds are zero that any gas exploration will happen as wild cat wells are not a cheap endeavor and NG companies make the decision where to drill, not a lease in the top drawer, that so many hold out hope, will save the family farm.

    • Tom Shepstone says:

      We don’t “stir the pot” in fringe communities but that is a definite part of the anti strategy to which we are determined to respond lest the false narrative gain traction in other communities. The antis deliberately target communities where there is no likelihood of drilling because there is no political price to be paid there for such gratuitous actions. However, it does allow the anti’s to claim some level of public support. Therefore, the battle goes where they take it.

      • fred jones says:

        I hear you Tom…….but it seems like a waste of time, considering the Southern Tier is mostly for gas development and if and when NG comes to NY, this IS where the drillers will set down rigs.

        My point is………..this whole shooting match of debate, is more of a “geological” one……….than an ideological one. So many false hopes of prosperity in low to zero shale gas reserve areas has made once good friends and neighbors, now enemies, over nothing. Just because you signed a lease did not automatically mean you were going to reap the benefits of NG drilling. I knew this years ago, looking at the logistics and data of the Marcellus. The information is there and has been, yet the emotional side of the argument has trumped the physical reality of the geology of this region. PA is where the mother lode of activity is happening, not because folks there want it. No…….the drilling is there because that’s where the GAS is! Just look at the map of the Marcellus and one can see that places like Dryden NY and all the hoopla over “rights” and bans are all based on NOTHING. Dryden has no gas, or so little, NG companies will not be drilling there no matter what the court outcome ends up being. A big pot has been stirred there, turning people against each other over false promises and hopes. In the end, no one will get rich or see a dime and will have once good friends turned into enemies………a sad testament to all this and how visions on money can cloud ones perceptions and judgment.

        Here is an interesting piece on PA and the deep deposits of shale gas. One must wonder why the NG companies are spending so much on the deep deposits as extraction is more expensive the farther down the gas is? One would think the shallow deposits would be more attractive. My guess is that the shallow deposits hold little gas….thus making NYS a gamble at best as the Marcellus thins out and is closer to the surface, than the PA deposits.

Speak Your Mind