DOE's Unconventional Gas Research Programs 1976-1995
SOURCE: U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region

3.2. Western Gas Sands Program (1978-1992)

By the late 1970s when the Western Gas Sands (WGS) R&D Program was initiated, tight gas in the Rocky Mountain Foreland basins was a poorly understood and largely uneconomic resource. The oil and gas E&P industry was skeptical toward the idea of significant widespread production from these discontinuous, low-permeability sandstones.

A moderate volume of gas, estimated at about 1 Tcf per year in 1976, was being produced from the mature tight sandstone fields of the Appalachian, San Juan and Permian basins.

This amounted to less than 6 percent of U.S. non-associated gas production and less than 5 percent of total gas production. In addition, the more geologically favorable (“near tight”) portions of the Gulf Coast, East Texas, Mid- Continent and Williston basins were producing about 360 Bcf annually. However, the five main Rocky Mountain gas basins (Greater Green River, Wind River, Piceance, Uinta, and Denver) that would be selected as the focus of the DOE R&D program were producing only 162 Bcf per year from what was then a proved reserves base of only about 2 Tcf; less than 1 percent of the nation's proven dry gas reserves at the time.

The FY 1978 Congressional Budget Request explained the justification for initiating western gas sands R&D as part of a restructured program focusing on enhanced oil and gas recovery. However, while the FY 1978 Enhanced Gas Recovery (EGR) budget was 80 percent higher than the previous year, much of the increase was devoted to projects related to Eastern Gas Shales and Coalbed Methane. Western gas sands R&D benefited from all subsequent budget increases however, and grew almost 300 percent from 1978 through 1981.

From 1982 through 1992 large recommended decreases in unconventional gas R&D spending reflected the Administration position that the government should not be involved in resource development. Although Congress generally appropriated more than the Administration requested during this period, the WGS Program R&D budgets gradually declined.

In 1993 the Administration reorganized DOE's budget structure towards a technology focus rather than a resource focus and the WGS Program essentially disappeared as a stand-alone program. R&D focused on naturally fractured tight reservoirs did continue, but on a more limited scale.

However, during its sixteen years the WGS Program made extremely important contributions to our fundamental understanding of how basin-centered gas accumulations occur and how these reservoirs can be effectively stimulated to produce gas at economic rates.

The considerable progress that has been achieved over the past thirty years in developing technologies for finding and producing tight gas reservoirs owes a great deal to the basic knowledge that was developed under the WGS Program and the technology development process that it set in motion.

In 2004, tight gas production (from all regions, not just western basins) was just over 5 Tcf, more than 28 percent of U.S. non-associated gas production and more than 21 percent of total gas production.

The DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA) currently expects tight gas production from the Rocky Mountain basins to reach nearly 2.3 Tcf per year and overall tight gas production in the U.S. to reach nearly 5.5 Tcf per year by 2020, a testimony to the WGS Program's early recognition of the long term importance of this resource to the nation's energy supply.

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Cover Page

Executive Summary

1. Background

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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