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Barnett Shale still thrives despite downturn


The following ran in the March 3, 2012, edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Bruce Bullock, director of SMU's Maguire Energy Institute, provided expertise for this story.


March 16, 2012

By Mitchell Schnurman

Natural gas prices have been falling for almost four years, and the number of drilling rigs in the Barnett Shale is near a seven-year low. Yet Tarrant County has never had more oil and gas workers, and production in the Barnett hit a record high in November.

If these are tough times in the gas business, I imagine we'll find a way to cope.

Money isn't sloshing around the way it was in 2008, when gas at the wellhead fetched four to five times today's price and signing bonuses were off the charts.

In a sense, we're seeing the maturation of the business, along with a shift of resources to lucrative oil plays elsewhere. But companies are still playing out the string on gas leases signed during the boom, trying to get the most from their sunk costs. The economy also continues to get a lift from the infrastructure that supports gas development and the companies selling services and products to other shale fields.

In the past decade, Tarrant and surrounding counties added 10,000 jobs in natural resources and mining, the jobs sector made up primarily of oil and gas workers in North Texas. That includes a 15 percent increase in the two years ending June 30, 2011, the most recent data available.

The growth hasn't let up, judging by stats for Houston, the state and the nation. Their full-year numbers show that each ended 2011 with a double-digit increase in mining jobs.

Even if natural gas prices remain near record lows, the Barnett will keep pumping for years to come.

"After the big guys take out a lot of gas, there will be a burst of activity by smaller players," said Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. "They have much lower costs, so they can make the economics work."...

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