Considering that AEO reference case forecasts for shale gas and tight oil production in recent releases are remarkably optimistic when considered at the play-level in terms of well productivity, decline rates and prospective areas, I find this baffling and worrisome. It’s one thing for industry to paint a rosy picture of future production, but something altogether different when a government agency—tasked with providing the American public with objective information—does it.

AEO2018, for example, projects that shale gas production will be 130% higher in 2050 than in 2016, while tight oil production will grow by 74%, all at relatively low prices. This despite the fact that average production from individual wells falls 70–90% in the first three years and entire fields would decline 20-40% a year if new wells weren’t constantly drilled.

I recently assessed the EIA’s AEO2017 forecasts and assumptions for all major shale gas and tight oil plays using a proprietary commercial database of well production data—a database that the EIA itself uses for its own analysis. The study revealed that the EIA has overestimated the likely future production of shale gas and tight oil for most plays by a wide margin. This is a result of overestimating the size of the prospective area and hence the number of wells that can be drilled, and underestimating future declines in well productivity.

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