Category Archives: US Energy Information Administration (EIA)

Monterey Shale estimate bungled: background & causes

Repost from the Post Carbon Institute

The Peak Oil Crisis: The Monterey Shale Debacle

May 28, 2014  |  Tom Whipple

Last week the LA Times ran a story saying that the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is about to reduce “its” estimate of the amount of shale oil that can be recovered from the Monterey Shale under California by 96 percent. This reduction cuts the estimate of producible shale oil in the U.S. by 60 percent.

This development, of course, came as no surprise to those of us who have been watching the Monterey Shale situation closely. To begin with, anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of geology knows that California is where great tectonic plates have been banging together for millions of years turning the earth below the surface into an incredible jumble. To produce shale oil one needs nice flat strata of oil bearing rock that run on for miles.

Then of course we have the issue of Chevron, which has been drilling in California since 1879. If one believes there really are 15 billion barrels of shale oil under the state, then why isn’t Chevron pumping it out by the tanker load?

Thus the interesting parts of this story are: who said there were 15.4 billion barrels of shale oil under California in the first place?; and how did the Department of Energy come to accept such an obviously flawed estimate, and trumpet the story far and wide so that many investors and policy makers in California and Washington fell for it?; and then why did it come to such a screeching halt leaving the country’s prospects for “energy independence” a dubious proposition?

Moreover, the government’s retraction of its estimate of shale oil prospects in California raises issues about just how good are its forecasts that North Dakota and Texas will continue producing large amounts of shale oil into the next decade.

The great Monterey Shale oil myth got its start back in July 2011 when the EIA stapled a cover on a contractor-produced “study” that it paid for entitled Review of Emerging Resources: U.S. Shale Gas and Oil Plays. In the fine print of the cover pages, however, the EIA did note that the “views in this report should not be construed as representing those of the Department of Energy.”

The underlying study, which was prepared by a small consulting company, INTEK, Inc., in Arlington, Virginia, purports to have been based on a wide range of sources and methods. However when it came to California the report’s author, Hitesh Mohan, said the California portion was primarily based on technical reports and presentations from oil companies. Presentations from oil companies are prepared to raise money from investors and can be expected to lay out the most optimistic view possible.

The methodology that produced the mythical estimate seems to have been something like this: take the 1,700 square miles of the Monterey Shale, drill 28,000 wells in it at the rate of 16 wells per square mile, wait until each well produces 550,000 barrels of oil, and you have your 15.4 billion barrels. Later research showed that only a handful of California oil wells ever produced 550,000 barrels of oil or anything close.

The California story only gets worse. The California oil industry funded a joint study by the University of California and the industry which concluded that exploiting the supposed 15 billion barrels of shale oil would result in from 512,000 to 2.8 million new jobs in the state; would increase per capita GDP by $11,000 and boost government revenue by up to $24.6 billion per year. All the politicians had to do was get out of the way, stop all this environmental nonsense over fracking and more regulations, and the state would be rich.

The writing on the wall came last year when thorough and independent studies by the Post Carbon Institute pointed out first that very little oil was coming out of California due to fracking of shale deposits as compared to those in North Dakota and Texas. In December of last year, a second and more detailed well-by-well study of what was actually happening in California blew the ridiculous INTEK/EIA conclusion out of the water. Although the Post Carbon Institute studies got little nationwide attention, several California newspapers and TV stations, which are much closer to the state’s well-being, did in-depth stories concluding that the 15 billion number and the ensuing riches were unlikely eventualities.

It is obvious that the new studies brought pressure on the Department on Energy to take a second look at what they were saying about shale oil in California. When it became obvious that were endorsing nothing but industry hype, they did an about face and lowered the estimate to 600 million barrels, which in itself may be high.

The EIA’s reaction to questions about one of the biggest blunders in its history is interesting. EIA Director Adam Sieminski told the Wall Street Journal that the oil bearing rocks are still under California, but the technology to extract the oil has not yet been developed. Industry spokesmen are more upbeat, saying that hundreds of smart engineers are working on the problem of producing California’s shale oil and that someday, if not sooner, they will be successful.

The California shale story raises once again questions about just where America’s shale oil and gas production is going and along with it the future of industrial society. Naturally, none of us want to hear that hard times, lower economic growth, and fewer jobs lie ahead. The Department of Energy clearly is trying to draw a fine line between the gross over-optimism exhibited in the Monterey shale incident and an energy apocalypse. But, do we really have to wait until the evidence of over-optimism is so overwhelming that it has to be admitted? There are several other “Monterey Shales” out there well-understood in the peak oil community where the Department of Energy continues to make overly optimistic estimates which will one day rebound to the detriment of us all.

Originally posted at Falls Church News Press.
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    Gov’t Slashes California Oil Estimate

    Repost from Post Carbon Institute

    U.S. Department of Energy Agency Reduces Monterey Tight Oil Estimate by Over 95%

    Oakland, California (May 20, 2014) — In an article released this evening, the Los Angeles Times reports that the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has drastically reduced its estimate of recoverable oil in California’s Monterey shale formation from 13.7 billion barrels to just 0.6 billion barrels—a reduction of over 95%.

    The downgrade has major implications for California’s energy and economic future, as well as the debate over hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and other forms of well stimulation-enabled oil development. The perception of an impending oil boom has dominated energy policy discussions in California since the release of a 2011 report by the EIA which had estimated up to 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable tight oil—64% of the nation’s total—in the state’s Monterey shale formation. The estimate was widely cited by drilling proponents, and economic forecasts based on it projected millions of new jobs and billions in new tax revenue.

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    “The oil had always been a statistical fantasy,” said geoscientist J. David Hughes, author of Drilling California: A Reality Check on the Monterey Shale, an influential report critical of the EIA’s original Monterey estimates. “Left out of all the hoopla was the fact that the EIA’s estimate was little more than a back-of-the-envelope calculation.”

    Hughes’s report, published by PSE Healthy Energy and Post Carbon Institute in December 2013, was the first public analysis of actual oil production data from the Monterey Shale and the formation’s geological characteristics. The report found that all data suggested that the EIA estimates were wildly over-optimistic.  INTEK, Inc., the source of the EIA’s original estimate, has since admitted that its Monterey figures were derived from technical reports and presentations from oil companies rather than hard data.

    “We’re pleased that the EIA has corrected what was a groundless and highly misleading over-estimation of the potential of the Monterey,” said Asher Miller, Executive Director of Post Carbon Institute. “We hope that everyone—from the EIA to policymakers and the media—will learn a cautionary lesson from what transpired here in California as we wrestle with questions about what the future of American energy policy can and should be.”

    “Now that Californians have a more accurate idea of what promise the Monterey Shale does and does not hold,” added Dr. Seth B. Shonkoff, Executive Director of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy, “we must carefully weigh the benefits against the costs associated with fracking and other forms of well stimulation-enabled oil and gas development.”

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    ABOUT J. DAVID HUGHES
    J. David Hughes is a geoscientist who has studied the energy resources of Canada and North America for nearly four decades, including 32 years with the Geological Survey of Canada as a scientist and research manager. Over the past decade, Mr. Hughes has researched, published and lectured widely on global energy and sustainability issues in North America and internationally. He is a Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute and a board member of Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy.

    ABOUT PSE HEALTHY ENERGY
    Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy provides a multi-disciplinary approach to identifying reasonable, healthy, and sustainable energy options for everyone. PSE Healthy Energy empowers citizens and policymakers by organizing and supplying objective, evidence-based information.

    ABOUT POST CARBON INSTITUTE
    Post Carbon Institute provides individuals, communities, businesses, and governments with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated economic, energy, and environmental crises that define the 21st century. PCI envisions a world of resilient communities and re-localized economies that thrive within ecological bounds.

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