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The Eagle Ford Shale Boom from Space


It can be difficult to comprehend just how big the current U.S. shale boom is. Here in Central Texas, we hear about the Eagle Ford Shale and how it’s transforming South Texas (in both positive and negative ways).

The shale, named for the town of Eagle Ford, TX, is a geologic remnant of the ancient ocean that covered present day Texas millions of years ago, when the remains of sea life (especially ancient plankton) died and deposited onto the seafloor, were buried by several hundred feet of sediment, eventually turning into the rich source of hydrocarbons we have today.

The shale was first tapped in 2008 and now has around 20 active fields good producing over 900 million cubic feet per day of natural gas. For perspective, the United States produced over 2 trillion cubic feet of gas in September 2012.

There is so much activity in the Eagle Ford Shale that you can see it from space.

This image is originally from NASA’s Earth at Night series that I’ve been following. The Eagle Ford Shale shows up as bands of lights below San Antonio, stretching from where the “Tex meets the Mex” to Interstate 10. What we’re seeing on the shale is not city or town lights that have sprung up because of the fracking activity. More than likely, we’re seeing well flares that are picked up by the imaging sensors aboard the Soumi NPP satellite, which detects both city lights and gas flares using a “day-night band”. You can also see flaring from offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, spreading out like silt from the Mississippi River, and some more flaring out in West Texas.

For perspective, here is a map (PDF) of the Eagle Ford Shale from the Energy Information Administration. The banding and well sites seem to match what we see from space.

And finally, if you zoom in and squint a bit, we can see South Texas circa 2000, pre Eagle Ford Shale. The major metro areas of Texas show up, but no banding along the Shale. Larger version here.


The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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