A new frontier in natural gas production
by Lori K. Ditoro

The Haynesville Shale, featured in a 60 Minutes report and in a two-hour documentary (Haynesville) in 2010, has become the newest “it” area for natural gas production. According to the 60 Minutes report, the Haynesville play could have four times as much natural gas as Saudi Arabia beneath the ground. It is ranked as the fourth largest natural gas shale in the world and the top gas shale in the U.S.

Drilling site in the Haynesville Shale

Drilling site in the Haynesville ShaleToday, the Haynesville’s natural gas is being brought to the surface by companies such as Chesapeake Oil and Gas, Encarta and Petrohawk, and it is being produced using technology and methods that were unavailable 10 years ago. Spanning across 3 million acres  from west Louisiana into east Texas and southwest Arkansas, the Haynesville Shale, barely on the oil and gas map a few years ago, is the new frontier for natural gas.


Haynesville’s History

Geologists have known about the Haynesville formation (also known as the Shreveport Shale or the Bossier Shale) for a long time, but the low price of natural gas and the cost of drilling made it economically undesirable to drill, until recently.  The formation was deposited about 150 million years ago. It is a deep formation that is about 200 feet thick.

Drilling began in 2006, but major activity began in 2007. The majority of the activity centers around the “sweet spot” of four parishes: Caddo, Red River, DeSoto and Bossier.1

The first two companies to begin drilling in earnest in the area were Petrohawk and Goodrich Petroleum. Later, Chesapeake Energy (one of the largest operators in the area) began drilling. At the time of publication, more than 20 companies are actively involved in the area. In 2010, drilling and production increased as natural gas prices rose.


The Technology

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are widely used in the Haynesville area. In the past, horizontal drilling did not make economic sense. Years ago, drilling a horizontal well could take up to 90 days. Today, it can be done in 30 to 45 days.2

“‘We are growing production almost without trying,’ Petrohawk Energy CEO Floyd Wilson said. ‘These wells are maybe twice as good as they were a year ago, and who knows where they will be in a year or two. The technology is still improving almost week by week.’”3

With the growing popularity and improving technology of hydraulic fracturing (frac pumping), natural gas is being more easily extracted from shale deposits, but with greater expense and greater wear on the pumping equipment (as discussed in Doug Walser’s article on page 34).

While concerns about fracturing’s potential effects on the environment are ever-present, it remains the most effective method for natural gas production in shale deposits, and the technology continues to evolve. Some companies, at the request of the EPA, have made their frac fluid’s contents public, while others have changed their frac fluid’s composition to make them more environmentally friendly. As mentioned in Lee Fuller’s article on page 19, the oil and gas community is also working together to create a nationwide registry of the chemical components used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

Hydraulic fracture mapping site in the Haynesville

Hydraulic fracture mapping site in the HaynesvilleOne Louisiana Landowner’s Experience

Imagine waking one morning and realizing that you own land sitting above part of the largest natural gas shale in the U.S. Many people would react by jumping at the first offer, and many did. However, Keith Mauck’s reaction was to research, wait and launch a website (www.gohaynesvilleshale.com) to help landowners like him understand the process and their options.

In 2008, Mauck’s uncle was approached and called to tell him, cautioning Mauck not to take the first offer…then his uncle immediately accepted the first offer. Instead of making a quick decision, Mauck went to landowner meetings and decided that the lease amounts were “not going to bottom out anytime soon.” So, he continued to wait. However, natural gas prices decreased, and he was concerned that he had made a mistake. In 2010, the prices increased again, and in fall 2010, he signed his lease.

The north Sabine Parish land that Mauck leased has been in his wife’s family for nearly 100 years. Mauck and the rest of the family wonder what their grandparents would think if they knew of the legacy that they had left for their grandchildren. He also wonders what they would think of the changes occurring in the once quiet parish. Once a secluded area, one large change has been the amount of traffic entering and leaving the area.

“The traffic is nonstop,” Mauck says. While in the past, trucks carrying timber were most often seen. “Now, it’s equipment and water. Some little towns have been changed drastically.” He only hopes that the parish and state can maintain the roads to compensate for the increased traffic.

A private road, cutting through property, leading to a work site in northern Sabine Parish, Louisiana (Photo courtesy of www.gohaynesvilleshale.com)

A private road, cutting through property, leading to a work site in northern Sabine Parish, LouisianaEconomically, the impact has travelled beyond leasing land. Landowners receive income from pipes that have to run across their land. Mauck has also sold water from the two ponds on his land. He plans to use the money from this to build another pond on his land. Local restaurants and other stores have benefited from the workers who have come to the area, and local workers who had been employed on rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have found work in the Haynesville area. According to Mauck, the oil and gas industry is having a positive effect on the parish’s and the state’s economy.

Rig in the Haynesville Shale (Photo courtesy of www.gohaynesvilleshale.com)

Rig in the Haynesville ShaleWhen approached in 2008, Mauck decided that the natural thing to do was to start a website on which landowners could be educated. When he was first approached, he felt uninformed about everything involved in the process. According to Mauck, the site “became a place to connect with people in the area and for us to learn what was going on. Knowledge is power.” The site has become a tool for landowners and professionals in the Haynesville area.

Part of the education involved with the site is understanding the potential impact on the land. While Mauck’s family does not live on the farm full-time, they gather there during holidays and vacations. Mauck and his fellow landowners want the drilling and production to be done right. They want to protect their property, and one thing that has been encouraged has been protecting their property upfront in the lease agreement. Along with this has been a concern about the technology (hydraulic fracturing) that is involved in the process.

“It [safety] is always a concern,” he says. “Producing energy is a messy proposition. Largely, the proof is in the pudding, and the issues have been few. If we don’t drill here, where are we going to drill?”

The hope is that the state will regulate the process. “My fear is that the states won’t follow through with regulations that are already in place and putting regulatory agents in the field.” He is also happy about new technology that is making frac pumping less impactful.

Along with the possibility of monetary gain, Mauck says that the landowners in the area feel a sense of responsibility. “People are excited about possibly bringing this country to energy independence,” he says. “They see it as being part of the solution.”


1. http://oilshalegas.com/haynesvilleshale.html
2. http://haynesvilleshale.com
3. Jesse Bogan, “Boom Times at the Haynesville Shale,” www.Forbes.com, June 5, 2009.

Upstream Pumping Solutions, Winter 2011