There's Gas in Them Thar Hills

 Dr. Scott W. Tinker and Dr. Eugene M. Kim
Bureau of Economic Geology
The University of Texas at Austin

In the 20th century, global energy demand, led by the United States, was satisfied largely by fossil fuels. During that time, the dominant fossil fuel in the energy demand mix transitioned from coal to oil. Over the next half-century, energy efficiency, economic stability, environmental quality, and resource sustainability will combine to gradually shift U.S. and global energy consumption trends toward an ever-greater percentage of natural gas, hydrogen, nuclear energy, and renewables. The natural gas component of the energy mix will be increasingly satisfied by unconventional sources such as tight gas, shale gas, coalbed methane, deepwater, subsalt, deep gas (>5,000 m), and gas hydrates. There are abundant natural gas reserves in North America. Successful exploitation of these resources will require an integrated and collaborative research and technology partnership between Federal and State Government, industry, and academia to achieve a balance between research funding, production incentives, infrastructure development, and access to productive lands.

Gas resources in the Rocky Mountain region will play a significant role in satisfying the future U.S. gas demand. Conventional associated gas will remain important, but an ever-increasing percentage of natural gas production will come from unconventional sources such as coalbed methane, tight gas, and deep gas. Data indicate that research and incentives have paid off in terms of unconventional gas resource creation, and continued research funding will be critical in order to develop and exploit these unconventional sources. For Rocky Mountain gas, advances in fracture and seismic understanding will be crucial. Numerical and geomechanical modeling and flow simulation of fractures, and direct field and laboratory observation methods such as cathodoluminescent scanning electron microscopy will provide critical input to describe and predict fracture aperture, orientation, spacing, clustering, geometry, relation to lithology, and cementation. Key areas for collaborative seismic research include rock physics, high-frequency sequence stratigraphy, nine-component three-dimensional (9C/3D) and four-component three-dimensional (4C/3D) seismic acquisition, processing, and analysis, air- and land-based remote sensing, and continued advancements in seismic inversion, seismic attribute, and amplitude versus offset (AVO) analysis.