Gas production in the Barnett Shale obeys a simple scaling theory

Tad W. Patzek*, Frank Male, Michael Marder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

302 Scopus citations


Natural gas from tight shale formations will provide the United States with a major source of energy over the next several decades. Estimates of gas production from these formations have mainly relied on formulas designed for wells with a different geometry. We consider the simplest model of gas production consistent with the basic physics and geometry of the extraction process. In principle, solutions of the model depend upon many parameters, but in practice and within a given gas field, all but two can be fixed at typical values, leading to a nonlinear diffusion problem we solve exactly with a scaling curve. The scaling curve production rate declines as 1 over the square root of time early on, and it later declines exponentially. This simple model provides a surprisingly accurate description of gas extraction from 8,294 wells in the United States' oldest shale play, the Barnett Shale. There is good agreement with the scaling theory for 2,057 horizontal wells in which production started to decline exponentially in less than 10 y. The remaining 6,237 horizontal wells in our analysis are too young for us to predict when exponential decline will set in, but the model can nevertheless be used to establish lower and upper bounds on well lifetime. Finally, we obtain upper and lower bounds on the gas that will be produced by the wells in our sample, individually and in total. The estimated ultimate recovery from our sample of 8,294 wells is between 10 and 20 trillion standard cubic feet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19731-19736
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 3 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Energy resources
  • Fracking
  • Hydrofracturing
  • Scaling laws
  • Shale gas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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