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The Fayetteville Shale Of Northern Arkansas

What Is The Fayetteville Shale?

The Fayetteville shale is one of more than a dozen major natural gas discoveries in the United States.

 Located in Northwestern Arkansas and neighboring states, it is a layer of  shale, or dense organic, gas rich rock that lies roughly at a depth of seven thousand feet below the surface. The Fayetteville shale, located in a region geologists refer to as the Arkoma basin, was formed millions of years ago in the Missippian geologic age, which lasted roughly from 359 to 318 million years ago. The Fayetteville shale is concentrated in the Arkansas counties of Pope, Conway, Van Buren, Cleburne, Faulkner and White.  It ranges in thickness from around fifty feet in Western Arkansas to 1000 feet thick in the Mississippi embayment.

Below is A Map Of The Fayetteville Shale from The University Of Arkansas

map of the Fayetteville shale and Barnett shale

The Fayetville shale is a rich source of natural gas, now that new methods of drilling have been developed. Since conventional drilling methods are not used this type of discovery is called "unconventional natural gas". Directional drilling technology enables Fayetville shale wells to be bored horizontally up to a mile or more in length. All of this open well bore can be cased with perforated pipe and even though shale is a thick, non porous rock, it can be fractured with water and sand under high pressure, enabling vast quantities of natural gas to escape.

For many years there have been attempts to produce gas from the Fayette shale with vertical wells. None of them were able to extract enough gas to justify the huge expense of drilling. It was noticed around 2002 by Southwestern Energy that significant quantities of natural gas were coming from sandstone wells just above the Fayetteville shale, at an amount that was not consistent with similar wells. Because of the success of the Barnett shale near Ft. Worth it was determined that the gas must be coming from the the Fayetteville shale below. The first horizontal well was drilled with success near Jerusalem AR in 2004. Southwestern reports that "natural gas production from the Fayetteville has increased from 53.5 bcef a day in 2007 to an anticipated 229-232 bcef a day in 2009". Southwestern Energy's stock symbol is SWN.

 After a well is drilled an oil and gas company such as Chesapeake may make tens of millions of dollars of profit off of one well. Production rates for wells in the Fayetteville shale range from one to ten million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

Much of the drilling and production in the Fayetteville shale is being done by three major companies, XTO, Chesapeake Energy and Southwestern Energy. These three companies own the majority of lease acreage in Arkansas. Other major players include Noble, Conango Oil and Gas, Edge Petroleum, Triangle Resources and Kerogen Petroleum.  

The Economic Impact Of The Fayetteville Shale

Economists have estimated the total economic impact on the region of Northern Arkansas at around eighteen billion dollars over the next five years. The economic impact of drilling a Fayetteville gas well has a trickle down effect that lasts for up to a decade or more. Aside from the jobs on drilling rigs there are associated businesses such as frac companies, trucking companies, well service companies and more. The economic boost from drilling has been welcome in an area where residents have been suffering from a lack of good jobs for years.

For a map of the major shale gas basins in the United States see: List Of Shale Formations




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