This is a very unpopular subject but Art is most probably correct. Somewhere near the start of all this shale gas and shale oil ruckus he wrote an editorial for World Oil. The hue and cry came from all corners. Especially corners like Aubrey McClendon and Chesapeake whose collective ox is gored by negative press about their promoters paradise that is shale oil / gas. Art offered to debate any and all comers with valid technically supported arguments and if defeated he would write a retraction. That was about 5 years ago and Art is still waiting for the challenger.
For those who have read this far and poo poo’ed Arts illustration of the Baaken decline as only running to 2011 please note if you have read this far that Art has shown the effect of stopping drilling in mid-2010 and holding the number of wells relatively constant for the balance of the period shown. Production falls like a rock. 38% in the first year for the region as a whole with the mix of old and new wells. Point is, hyperbolic decline tight rock reservoirs are a treadmill of drilling investment to keep the rate flat or climbing. The wells do make money, they pay for themselves but it is hard to make them pay for other wells.
The main thesis is simple petroleum engineering / reservoir engineering. Wells decline producing less each day, except for strong water drives which shale ain’t. Tight rock, which shale is, decline faster than high permeability rock since it simply takes more energy to push the product from far away to the well bore. Yup, even if you frac them. There is also a feature of shale and other wells that are stimulated by fracturing... eventually the pressure in the rock declines and the rock sort of collapses and gets tighter. Mostly this happens in very deep high pressure reservoirs but it also happens in shale. There is also the problem of fines migration in shale. It eventually plugs the fracture conduits. The big question has been the shape of the decline curve. Is it exponential, hyperbolic or something else? There has been enough production by now to demonstrate is is probably hyperbolic. Hyperbolic decline falls at an increasing rate all the time. Exponential is a constant rate of decline. Hyperbolic is really fast.
This drilling provides what our society craves most... near instant gratification, style over substance and quick profits but not much in the way of an enduring asset. Everybody is flocking to it because it is the flavor of the day and if you don’t your stock will suffer. Production departments sell oil. Boardrooms sell stock, make big bonuses and get the hell out of Dodge.
The wells are a promoters paradise. High probability of finding oil, “factory drilling” meaning pretty much just cookie cutter processes requiring limited skill set (not that it is easy mind you but that it is highly repetitive once you get the formula down and keep screw ups to a minimum), high flush or early production providing rapid payout followed by a long and unspectacular production tail. If you can pay the operating expense for low productivity wells you will see low amounts of oil production from a well for decades. If you promote on a 1/3 for a 1/4 basis or are using other investor money you have no reason to stop drilling until you run out of OPM (Other People’s Money).
Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice story to see production improving and lots of jobs, very nice royalty checks for mineral owners. Huge amounts of money are injected into local economies. Long as the deal can keep going it is fat city.
We could get a lot of oil from these wells but we will likely have to be very very patient to get it. I’ve said for years we run out of economic production rate long before we run out of oil which is why leaving 65% of the original oil in place is considered being very successful by some.
Art is probably right.
Once again, posters here are confusing Shale Oil (trapped oil - Baaken) with Oil Shale (Kerogen - Green River) and oil sands (Bitumen - Alberta).
An excellent description of the differences is here.
The bottom line is that only Oil Sands is going to have a significant impact on North American energy independence, by adding another million or so barrels a day to Canadian oil exports by 2020.
Long term, Thorium is the answer.