In the mid-to-late 1970s, fears that supplies of natural gas would soon run out led to the
initiation of U.S. government and private efforts to better understand both the magnitude
of the nation's natural gas resource and how best to find and produce it. In particular,
interest focused on natural gas resources in unconventional reservoirs: low permeability
formations (also called tight sands or tight gas), Devonian shales, methane-rich coal
seams, and geopressurized aquifers. This gas had not been included in previous estimates
of the Nation's natural gas resource base, but the likelihood that higher gas prices and
new technologies might make it economic to produce led to several seminal studies that
in turn became the basis for a number of government and private R&D efforts.
The first study of unconventional gas resources was completed by the Federal Power
Commission in 1973. It was followed by studies published over the following seven
years by the National Academy of Science (NAS) the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, Department of Energy (Lewin & Associates), and the National Petroleum
Council (see Appendix A for details on these documents, listed below):
The NAS study consisted of a one-day forum of experts on the topic of unconventional
gas in January 1976 in Washington, D.C. Their discussions, published later that year,
determined that ... "It is evident that a large quantity of methane remains in the
sedimentary rocks of this country ... however, total resource figures are highly
speculative and much work must be done to produce acceptable estimates. ...The level of
funding devoted to investigating new sources of methane has been miniscule, with the
greater part of the work dependent upon private-sector funds and motivation. ... Efforts
to develop cheap, effective means for producing gas from these presently underdeveloped
resources should be encouraged and imaginative ideas subsidized."1
- U.S. Federal Power Commission, Task Force Report of the Supply-Technical
Advisory Task Force-Natural Gas Technology, in Natural Gas Survey, Vol. 2, 1973.
- National Academy of Sciences, Natural Gas from Unconventional Geologic Sources,
1976, Energy Research and Development Administration Report FE-2271-1.
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Department of Energy, National Gas
Survey: Non-conventional Natural Gas Resources, DOE/FERC-0010, June 1978.
- V. A. Kuuskraa, et al. (Lewin & Associates, Inc.), Enhanced Recovery of
Unconventional Gas (Vols. I, II and III), October 1978, U.S. Department of Energy
Publication HCP/T270S-01, 02, 03.
- National Petroleum Council, Unconventional Gas Sources, five volumes, 1980.
Seeking to maximize development of all domestic energy sources, Congress authorized
funding for an Unconventional Gas Research Program in FY 1976. The original program
consisted of three separate resource-specific sub-programs:
1. Eastern Gas Shales Project (EGSP) focused on Devonian-age organic shales of
the eastern U.S.
This research was to be managed by the U.S. Energy Research and Development
Administration (ERDA) and its Morgantown Energy Research Center (MERC).
2. Western Gas Sands Project (WGSP) focused on low permeability gas sandstone
reservoirs of the western U.S.
3. Methane Recovery from Coalbeds Project (MRCP) focused on free methane
associated with both mineable and unmineable coal seams.
ERDA became part of the Department of Energy (DOE), newly created in 1977, which
was tasked with managing an Enhanced Gas Recovery (EGR) Program initiated by the
FY 1978 Congressional Budget request.
The goal of the Program was to "develop and
stimulate the deployment of advanced exploration, development and production
technologies for recovering new gas supplies from the massive but complex
unconventional gas resources – tight gas, coalbed methane, gas shales and geopressured
The technical objectives were to increase per well gas recovery efficiencies
and lower unit development costs while providing incentives (through tax credits) for
prompt, orderly development of the nation's gas resources.2"
In addition, the Program had two quantitative, national-level natural gas supply goals:
1. Increase gas production by an incremental 3 Bcf per day by 1986, and
2. Add 10 Tcf of producible reserves by 1985.
The DOE R&D program that grew out of this initial effort was funded between $20 and
30 million dollars per year from 1978 thru 1981 (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: Funding of Various DOE Unconventional Gas Programs 1977-2002. (Click to enlarge)
After 1980, the Reagan Administration implemented dramatic reductions in energy R&D
spending, and the level of funding for the four-year-old DOE natural gas R&D program
decreased to approximately $10 million per year through the majority of the decade of the
The three programs
begun by ERDA in 1976 were continued under this effort. The work continued to be
managed by researchers at the now renamed DOE Morgantown Energy Technology
Center (METC). The larger portion of this funding went towards the Eastern Gas Shales
Program and Western Gas Sands Program, with a much smaller amount focused on the
Methane Recovery from Coalbeds Project.
Beginning in 1982 and continuing through
1992, there was also a small Methane Hydrates Program. Also, from 1982 through 1992
there was a Deep Source Gas program, and later, from about 1987 through 2000, a
Secondary Gas Recovery program.
Preliminary research into the geopressured methane
resource added to the understanding of the actual potential of this resource, leading to the
termination of R&D in this area.
Funding for R&D related to natural gas E&P-related environmental protection
technologies grew to be more than that directed towards E&P technologies themselves.
By 1992, much of the remaining DOE R&D program had been eliminated, with only a
limited program related to Western Tight Sands surviving.
In 1993 the DOE R&D
program transitioned from its historical focus on unconventional gas resources to a
technology product orientation, emphasizing tools and methodologies for drilling,
imaging, diagnostics, completion and stimulation.
From 1994 through 2005, funding for
DOE R&D related to natural gas E&P has remained fairly steady in the range of $10 to
$20 million per year.
1 National Academy of Sciences, Natural Gas from Unconventional Geologic Sources, 1976, Energy
Research and Development Administration Report FE-2271-1.
2 Kuuskraa, V., Guthrie, H., "Translating Lessons Learned from Unconventional Natural Gas R&D to
Geologic Sequestration Technology," paper presented to the 1st National Conference on Carbon
Sequestration, May 2001.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. GRI Research into Unconventional Gas Resources
3. Structure of the Enhanced Gas Recovery Program (EGR)
3.1. Eastern Gas Shales Program (1976-1992)
3.1.1. Key Questions and Related R&D Goals
3.1.2. Program Design and Overview of Major Projects
3.1.3. Key Eastern Gas Shales Projects
3.1.4. Highlights of Important Results
3.1.5. Subsequent Developments in DOE and Other Research Related to Eastern Gas Shales
3.2. Western Gas Sands Program (1978-1992)
3.2.1. Key Questions and Related R&D Goals
3.2.2. Program Design and Overview of Major Projects
3.2.3. Key Western Gas Sands Projects
3.2.4. Highlights of Important Results
3.2.5. Subsequent Developments in DOE Research Related to Tight Gas Sands
3.3. Methane Recovery from Coalbeds Program (1978-1982)
3.3.1. Key Questions Related to Coal Seam Methane
3.3.2. MRCP Program Design and Overview
3.3.3. Key Methane Recovery from Coalbeds Projects
3.3.4. Highlights of Important Results
3.3.5. Subsequent Research Related to Methane Recovery from Coalbeds
3.4. Deep Source Gas Project (1982-1992)
3.4.1. Key Deep Source Gas Projects
3.4.2. Highlights of Important Results
3.5. Methane Hydrates Program (1982-1992)
3.5.1. Methane Hydrates Workshop (March 1982)
3.5.2. Key Questions and Related R&D Goals
3.5.3. Program Design
3.5.4. Major Contracted Gas Hydrates Projects
3.5.5. Methane Hydrate Research Efforts of METC's In-House Organization
3.5.6. Highlights of Important Results
3.5.7. Subsequent Developments in Methane Hydrate Research
3.6. Secondary Gas Recovery (1987-1995)
3.6.1. Key Objectives and Program Design
3.6.2. Major Projects
3.6.3. Major Results
4. Elements of Spreadsheet Bibliographies (by Program)
Appendix A: Details of Major 1970-1980 Unconventional Gas Resource Assessments
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