Shale Boom

It seems like only yesterday that I was busy, really busy, covering the continuing story of the Barnett Shale.

It was in the early 2000s, when everyone got the feeling that something was changing. The ground under our feet was moving, sometimes literally, as companies began to extract natural gas in huge volume in North Texas.

It is now history, though. And that point is proven by the fact that we now have a book that attempts to put that time in perspective. It’s a good one too.

Diana Davids Hinton, a professor of history at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, has written Shale Boom: The Barnett Shale Play and Fort Worth. It won’t be the last book written about the Barnett Shale, but it gets a bit of the flavor of the time, when, really, few people knew what was in store, only that it was going to be a hell of a ride.

Shale Boom describes how independent oilman George P. Mitchell developed technology that would unlock trillions of cubic feet of natural gas in the North Texas rock formation known as the Barnett Shale. Once Mitchell found the formula, other oilmen used it to uncover vast reserves, prompting a gas boom extending through 21 North Texas counties, with Fort Worth at the center and the eastern edge ending just before you got to Big D.

As the new technology was adapted to develop shale in other areas, controversy over it became national and global. Unlike Las Vegas, what happened in the Barnett Shale didn’t stay here, but was exported to create profound changes for the future of petroleum at home and abroad.

What a bucking bronco of a ride it was. The book notes that the Everman Independent School District was struggling to keep its nine campuses running. In March of 2007, two XTO wells on school property brought the district over half a million dollars in royalties. “It’s like winning the lottery!,” said the superintendent. In Tarrant County, as leasing continued at a record pace, the County Clerk’s office was overrun as landmen began copying deed records. The office couldn’t keep up, but it did keep the $5.1 million brought in by various fees charged the landmen. Photocopies alone brought in $2.3 million to the county’s general fund in 2008.

In May 2008, according to the book, Gene Powell of Powell Barnett Shale Newsletter estimated that the owner of a 2.2 acre lot in Tarrant County might get close to $16,000 in royalties over a 30-year period. There were lots of new trucks bought with royalty checks.

It wasn’t all a free-flowing gusher of money, though. The book also details the issues in Parker County over possible well contamination. And then came the earthquakes, linked primarily to disposal wells.

Despite those issues, the book points out that millions of Americans, directly or indirectly, have benefited from what happened in those years the Barnett Shale was becoming one of the biggest producers of natural gas in the country.

While the Permian Basin is proving to be a very active region for oil and gas activity at the moment, industry officials are still unable to tell exactly how much oil and gas they might extract from shale. According to the book: “[U]sing current technology , oil and gas drillers are producing only a small fraction – perhaps less than one-tenth – of the petroleum locked in the rock.”

The boom – and the wild ride – may be over, but the changes it engendered are still reverberating around the world.

Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.

Shale Boom

The Barnett Shale Play and Fort Worth

By Diana Davids Hinton

Texas Christian University Press, 192 pgs., $30

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