Sustained increases in energy prices have focused attention on gas resources in low permeability shale or in coals that were previously considered economically marginal. Daily well deliverability is often relatively small, although the estimates of the total volumes of recoverable resources in these settings are large. Planning and development decisions for extraction of such resources must be area-wide because profitable extraction requires optimization of scale economies to minimize costs and reduce risk. For an individual firm the decision to enter such plays depends on reconnaissance level estimates of regional recoverable resources and on cost estimates to develop untested areas.

This paper shows how simple nonparametric local regression models, used to predict technically recoverable resources at untested sites, can be combined with economic models to compute regional scale cost functions. The context of the worked example is the Devonian Antrim shale gas play, Michigan Basin. One finding relates to selection of the resource prediction model to be used with economic models. Models which can best predict aggregate volume over larger areas (many hundreds of sites) may lose granularity in the distribution of predicted volumes at individual sites. This loss of detail affects the representation of economic cost functions and may affect economic decisions. Second, because some analysts consider unconventional resources to be ubiquitous, the selection and order of specific drilling sites may, in practice, be determined by extraneous factors. The paper also shows that when these simple prediction models are used to strategically order drilling prospects, the gain in gas volume over volumes associated with simple random site selection amounts to 15 to 20 percent. It also discusses why the observed benefit of updating predictions from results of new drilling, as opposed to following static predictions, is somewhat smaller.

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