The U.S. Geological Survey issued a report Tuesday that threw the most recent guess into the dartboard of Marcellus prediction.
The study estimated the Marcellus Shale play contains about 84 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas -- far lower than other recent estimates, including one made last month by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that predicted the play contained as much as 410 trillion cubic feet of gas.
The study begs the question of how the numbers can bounce around as much as they have. As good of an explanation as exists can be found here, and a great analysis of the political ramifications of the USGS study can be found here.
The bottom line? Predicting just how much gas lies in the Marcellus appears to be a highly subjective matter. Experts will continue to hone their numbers as more information becomes available (definitely up from the 2 trillion cubic feet the USGS predicted in 2002, but not as high as their previous pie-in-the-sky prognostication of 410 trillion c/f). In the meantime, expect drilling to continue unabated in Pennsylvania, as one thing for sure is that "recoverable" isn't nearly as valuable a word to gas companies as "recovered."
To be honest, I'm more interested in a piece of news that got a lot less attention than it deserved because of the hullabaloo surrounding the USGS report. In just as symbolic but perhaps more consequential act as the release of the report, Gov. Chris Christie has proposed a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New Jersey.
While New Jersey's natural gas reserves are a fraction of what is contained in the rocks of Pennsylvania, the fact that two governors so alike in political views (Christie and Corbett) have taken such staunchly oppositional approaches to hydraulic fracturing is a bit of an eye-opener.
At the very least, the move shows natural gas drilling does not have universal support from the Republican Party. It also shows that political support for drilling can disappear quickly if it doesn't produce both the jobs and energy production the Marcellus Coalition and other industry advocates have promised. And, as the effective pressure on Gov. Christie has shown, it must do so at a minimal environmental cost.