Economy's impact on Haynesville Shale activity minimal

Published: Jan. 15, 2009 at 3:56 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 15, 2009 at 4:02 PM CST
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SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - When it comes to energy, natural gas has overtaken oil in the search for fossil fuels.

Twenty years ago, the majority of drilling was for oil. Now, it's for the invisible, clean-burning fuel that just happens to be in bountiful supply right underneath the feet of people in northwest Louisiana.

It's keeping the Haynesville Shale a hot spot in the U.S., even as the economy runs cold.

When the bottom fell out of the U.S economic market back in the fall, it took the booming business of high leasing bonuses with it.

"We're continuing to lease, however it's on a much more selective basis and we're filling in drillable units whenever we can," said Kevin McCotter with Chesapeake Energy.

But Chesapeake Energy, which continues to hold the largest chunk of land in the Haynesville Shale area, has not backed down on drilling.

"Not a bit," said McCotter. "We're continuing to ramp up our operations very significantly."

In fact, McCotter says they have 19 rigs up and running right now, and expect to drill as many wells this year as they were projecting at the height of the leasing boom last summer.

Chesapeake's not alone.  According to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, there are more than 200 wells with drilling permits in the Haynesville Shale, and more are on the way.

"When you look at the number of drilling rigs that were active on any given month, say, back to July and August, (that's) about 70 or 80, and it's been in the last couple of months, going into the first half of this month, ... averaging more than 90. If you go back to the early part of the year ... it's almost double what it was this time a year ago before Haynesville really hit it," said Patrick Courreges with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

That bucks the national trend, where drilling activity has dropped over the last several months.

As McCotter points out, the big bonuses might be gone, but if you consider all the jobs that drilling brings, "I shudder to think what our economy would be like without the impact of the shale development."

There are 26 wells producing in the Haynesville Shale right now, but with so many more expected to come online this year, the next big challenge might be all the pipelines that will need to be laid in order to get all that natural gas to market. That will likely involve many more lease deals and right-of-way issues.