The Haynesville Shale refers to a rock formation covering about 9,000 square miles in East Texas, Western Louisiana, and a few counties in southwest Arkansas. This Jurassic Period formation contains massive quantities of natural gas that became feasible to extract as recently as 2008, when companies started using more advanced drilling techniques like hydraulic and directional drilling. Between 2009 and 2011, production in the area spiked from less than 1 billion cubic feet/day to over 7 billion cubic feet/day using these revolutionary drilling techniques. At its peak, the area accounting for more than 9% of the total U.S. natural gas production. When drilling in the area started, some estimated that this massive shale formation could be the largest in the U.S., with over 200 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas. However, this estimate was later reduced to a more moderate approximation of 75 trillion cubic feet.

Composition

Scientists believe the Haynesville Shale was created during the Jurassic Period, 201.3 – 145 million years ago, though fossils identified in the rock more specifically point to formation occurring during the Upper Jurassic Period, or Kimmeridgian period between 157 – 151 million years ago. More than 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface, the Haynesville Shale is composed of a variety of rocks including mudstone, sandstone, shale, and limestone. Initially, the depth of the shale formation made it difficult to get to, since the temperatures at that depth can reach in excess of 300 degrees, requiring specialized drilling equipment. Chesapeake Energy was the first company to successfully explore and drill the area in 2006.

From Bust to Boom

Louisiana had been through many years of boom and bust cycles with oil, but production in the area almost completely dried up during the 1980s, when foreign oil flooded the market. Though geologists knew of the Haynesville Shale formation, no one was able to successfully tap this energy source until 2006. Armed with knowledge gained from horizontal drilling along both the Barnett Shale and Fayetteville Shale, Oklahoma oil giant, Chesapeake Energy turned their attention to extracting gas from the Haynesville Shale. Their initial run was a success, and when news of the successful production spread, the area started booming. Drilling ramped up between 2008-2011, with production levels reaching their peak at over 10 billion cubic feet/day in 2011.

…And from Boom to Bust

Unfortunately, excitement over drilling in Haynesville dried up quickly, as dropping gas prices coupled with the expense of drilling the hard-to-reach reserves made it prohibitively expensive for some oil companies to keep producing.  But things are looking up. Chesapeake Energy announced that it plans to drill 140 more wells in the area by the end of 2017. Additionally, across the U.S. there has been a shift in energy consumption – away from coal and towards natural gas – encouraged by big names like oil magnate T. Boone Pickens. The increased demand for gas in the coming decades could mean another boom for this area that’s still sitting on trillions of cubic feet of undrilled reserves.