Tell Terry Engelder he’s famous, and he comments wryly, “If you say so.”
Engelder, professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, has long been an expert on the Devonian black shales.
His profile escalated dramatically with the onset of the now-renowned Devonian age Marcellus Shale play, which spans a distance of 400 miles, trending northeastward from West Virginia and into New York.
Not surprisingly, his profile also will be large at the upcoming AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Pittsburgh, conveniently set close to Engelder’s own backyard.
At ACE, Engelder’s listed as a supporting co-author for three technical talks that will be presented – all dealing with the Marcellus Shale – and he’ll be a leader on the field trip “Devonian Gas Shales of the Appalachian Basin.”
Engelder’s connection to Marcellus geology goes back decades, but his tie to the shale play began garnering attention in late 2007, when Range Resources announced initial test rates between 1.4 and 4.7 mcf/d for five horizontal wells drilled in the Marcellus.
That announcement essentially coincided with a press release from Penn State, noting that Engelder, working in conjunction with fellow AAPG member Gary Lash, a geoscience professor at SUNY Fredonia, had estimated the recoverable gas from the Marcellus Shale to be 50 Tcf.
The play quickly acquired legs.
“That was my initial volumetric calculation, which was designed to be very conservative,” Engelder said. “When production data became available, I did a statistical analysis on the very first data.
“As a result of this, I thought ultimately that under favorable price conditions the Marcellus would yield as much as 489 Tcf,” he said. “By favorable, I mean something like $8 to $10 per Mcf.”
Joints and a Woman’s Legacy
Engelder began mapping rocks in the Appalachian Basin, including the gas shales, in the late 1970s. He published his first paper on the topic in 1980 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
The publication kicked off his now-longtime consulting business with industry, when management at a division of Shell read the paper in the mid-1980s and contacted him for input on the Antrim Shale, where they were drilling for gas.
Natural hydraulic fracturing in the basin was confirmed in a series of papers by Engelder and various co-authors.
“The play is all about the fractures in the rock and how you tap into them,” he said. “The Marcellus has two sets of vertical fractures, or joints – the J1 and the J2.
“The more dense, more closely spaced east-northeast trending J1s are cross-cut by the less well developed northwest-trending J2 joints,” he noted.
Engelder emphasized the fractures and joints were first discovered long ago by a woman geologist, Pearl Gertrude Sheldon.
Sheldon, a structural geologist, earned her doctorate from Cornell University in 1911, according to a Cornell Press-issued book about the Marcellus penned by Tom Wilber. Her doctoral thesis reportedly focused on faulting in the Appalachian Basin black shales.
Sheldon spent considerable time studying the geology in the Taughannock Falls State Park area in central New York. She published the results of her work in a paper titled “Some Observations and Experiments on Joint Planes,” which appeared in 1912 in the Journal of Geology.
“If you look back, in terms of influence a woman has had on the U.S. oil and gas industry, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with more impact than Pearl Sheldon,” Engelder said emphatically. “This happened even before AAPG originated.”
In terms of his scientific contribution to the ongoing Marcellus action, he commented that his most significant paper was written in conjunction with one of his graduate students, Alfred Lacazette, in 1992.
Lacazette, also an AAPG member, is now with Global Geophysical Services in Denver.
“In that paper, we had first discovered that the prime mechanism for driving natural fractures in gas shale was not water but natural gas,” he said. “Up to that point the paradigm was that natural hydraulic fractures were water driven.
“A lot of the basis for gas recovery is a consequence of the presence of those natural hydraulic fractures that Lacazette and I documented (more than) 20 years ago,” he said.
In widespread acknowledgement of his scientific expertise, Engelder was featured in a shale-focused cover story in a leading national news magazine in 2011. He also was included among Foreign Policy Magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers for 2011, sharing spot 36 on the list with Gary Lash and legendary Texas oilman George Mitchell, renowned “father” of the prolific Barnett Shale play in Texas.
Friends and Foes
Ongoing media recognition, making the rounds on the lecture circuit and meeting other demands that go with the territory can make for an exciting life.
It’s not all glory.
Typical of the experience of high profile industry/hydraulic fracturing proponents, Engelder has been targeted by a number of “off-beat” websites along with other widely known anti-fracing, anti-fossil fuel groups.
He’s not losing any sleep.
“I judge my success based on heat coming from (a certain) website,” he said. “If they’re on to me, that means I must be doing something right.
“Early on, I became the Dr. Strangelove of the fracing debate,” he quipped. “Everyone and his brother are pretty sure I’m the super pariah.
“When (a leading environmental group) came out in favor of natural gas, largely because of the (lesser) environmental impact natural gas had on global emissions compared to coal, the group’s members compared their president to me as a measure of the ultimate insult,” Engelder joshed.
There were weighty issues of a sort early-on.
When capital-focused Jefferies initially asked Engelder in 2007 to evaluate the Marcellus in terms of its potential for gas production, he was told by a Jefferies staff member during a one-hour conference call that “billions of dollars of investment capital are listening to you.”
He had qualms about releasing his initial estimate of 50 Tcf, thinking of the negative impact it might have if wrong.
The positives won out.
“The human economy can only be nurtured and grow in proportion to the energy to which systems have access,” Engelder stated. “I did what I did based on the knowledge that his would be a very positive impact on the American economy; it would be huge.”
No one would argue that this university professor has come a long way, baby.
He’s a happy camper.
“It’s rare for a university faculty member to interact with the public to this extent,” Engelder commented earnestly. “It’s a real thrill.”