The development of natural gas in Wise County has created thousands of jobs and millions in local economic stimulus dollars.
The Barnett Shale is a large natural gas reserve encompassing more than 5,000 square miles and stretching across 20 counties in North Central Texas. Providing 7 percent of all natural gas used in the United States, it is currently the largest producer of natural gas, methane, in the nation. Wise County serves as one of the prime points of production in the Barnett Shale play.
The boom of the Barnett Shale began here in Wise County, in the early 1980s, when local businessman George Mitchell sparked an innovation that changed the landscape of energy production in North Texas and around the world.
“The first wells drilled into the Barnett Shale were drilled in Wise County,” said Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council (BSEEC). “They were drilled by George Mitchell.”
Mitchell built his large plant off U.S. 380, just west of Bridgeport, at the same time that traditional sources of natural gas were being depleted in the region. He needed more gas to run his new plant. He knew natural gas was trapped in the shale. Wells had gone through the shale and into standard pockets of natural gas, but no one knew how to release the natural gas from the rocky confines of the shale.
So, Mitchell gave an order to his engineers.
“He drilled into the Barnett Shale and stopped,” Ireland said. “He instructed his engineers to figure out how to get gas out of the shale. He told his engineers to find out how to get the gas out of the rock.”
Pressure led to innovation.
“They tried various fracturing techaniques,” Ireland said. “They ended up trying water, and that worked. That’s why we refer to it as hydraulic fracturing. It opened up the technique of getting natural gas out of shales. Everywhere there are natural gas deposits, there are shales, but the technique to get the gas out wasn’t developed until George Mitchell.”
Mitchell Energy was eventually bought by Devon Energy, which continues to be the No. 1 producer of natural gas in Wise County.
In recent years, gas development in the county has resulted in record numbers of tax dollars collected by local government entities. New hotels to provide for gas field workers have popped up along highways in Wise County like sunflower stalks. The industry has created hundreds of jobs in Wise County and generated millions in tax revenues for municipalities and school districts.
“It’s had a tremendous impact on North Texas,” Ireland said. “It’s resulted in billions of dollars of economic stimulus for the area. Lots of mineral rights owners have gotten checks in the mail.”
It’s unknown how much longer the boom will continue. Estimates range between five and 20 more years of drilling.
“The Barnett Shale is only half drilled up,” Ireland said. “There will be more drilling because in the scheme of things it’s only just begun.”
As of January 2012, Wise County had 4,290 producing gas wells according to the Texas Railroad Commission. It’s an increase of 144 new wells brought online in the past year. Only four counties in the entire state have more regular producing gas wells.
The Barnett Shale has also helped generate side industries, such as wastewater trucking companies and mud farming to deal with the byproducts of natural gas production.
Due to the success of the technique of hydraulic fracturing, new shale plays have opened across the continent. The large volume of natural gas has flooded the market, dropping natural gas prices to the lowest seen in 10 years. Industry experts expect prices to remain low for at least 12 months.