A satellite photo of the Earth at night taken 10 years ago with natural gas reserve concentrations superimposed depicts a world where the resources are not located near the major population centers, which are clearly identified as large visible light clusters.
Fast-forward a decade and superimpose shale gas resources on current nighttime satellite images and one observes natural gas resources much closer to the world's major metropolitan areas where power generation demand is highest.
This is how Ken Medlock, senior director of Rice University's Baker Institute Center for Energy Studies, set the stage for his natural gas market presentation at last week's USAEE/IAEE North American Conference held in Anchorage, Alaska.
Medlock's team extensively researched U.S. shale gas play breakeven prices, a major discussion topic and source of disagreement among analysts and industry participants in recent years. Everyone wants to know what Henry Hub benchmark gas price is required for an unconventional well to recoup costs and turn profitable. The less than satisfying but most accurate answer is "it depends."
"Some wells are profitable at $2.65 per thousand cubic feet, others need $8.10 … the median is $4.85," Medlock said.
The presence of natural gas liquids—which fetch higher prices than dry natural gas—is one major factor, but infrastructure access, lease costs, local fiscal conditions and other variables contribute to well economics.