CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal officials are scrambling to explain two widely conflicting estimates of the size of the natural gas reserves that drillers might be able to recover from the Marcellus Shale.
A new U.S. Geological Survey, issued Tuesday, concluded the Marcellus -- a formation that stretches from New York to Tennessee -- contains 84 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas.
That estimate came in 42 times larger than the 2 trillion cubic feet projected in a USGS report published nearly a decade ago, largely because of technological advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
But media reports have emphasized that the new USGS estimate is much smaller than a projection published just last month by the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.
The DOE analysis reported that there were 410 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a figure that helped fuel continued speculation that drilling in the formation could be an economic powerhouse for West Virginia and other states in the region.
By comparison, total U.S. natural gas production was about 22.6 trillion cubic feet last year. West Virginia produced about 255 billion cubic feet in 2009, the most recent year for which figures were immediately available Thursday. Only 20 billion cubic feet of West Virginia's production came from shale gas wells.