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What is Tight Gas?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tight gas is natural gas that is difficult to access because of the nature of the rock and sand surrounding the deposit. Because this gas is so much more difficult to extract than natural gas from other sources, companies require a large financial incentive to go after it; as energy prices rise, so does interest in extracting it. Several global oil and gas companies control significant tight gas reserves, and some have also sunk substantial resources into learning more about extracting it more efficiently.

Normally, natural gas is fairly easy to access. When a deposit is identified, a well can be sunk, and the gas naturally flows into the well, making it easy to pump it to the surface and to distribute it from there. This is because natural gas is normally surrounded by deposits of porous rock, with lots of small holes for the gas to seep through. Sometimes, the gas almost literally pumps itself.

In the case of tight gas, the surrounding sandstone, shale, or other rock is not so permeable, looking much denser in cross-section. The lack of permeability locks the gas up underground, making it difficult to drill a profitable well. This gas is also found trapped in coal deposits. In order to get at the it, it's necessary to find a “sweet spot” where a large amount of gas is accessible, and sometimes to use various means to create a pressure vacuum in the well which pulls the gas out of the surrounding rock.

Historically, such deposits were written off as “unrecoverable,” but as the demand for natural gas has grown, many companies have rethought this assessment, pushing to see if the deposits could be accessed. While tight gas is costly to extract, higher gas prices can make the expense worth it, especially if the gas has a composition that is favorable to distillation, allowing the company to extract several valuable fractions from a single well.

Most tight gas deposits date to the Paleozoic era, which means that they are at least 251 million years old. The advanced age of such deposits is presumably responsible for their inaccessibility; the gas is tight, in other words, because the rock around it has had more time to become dense. These deposits may also be deeper than ordinary gas deposits, posing additional challenges. Companies that work with tight gas use a variety of survey tactics to identify potential sources of gas and to target the best spots for drilling.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon241694 — On Jan 19, 2012

Is it not tight gas that they are trying to extract from (as you mentioned) shale here in the USA and other countries by using the Fracking or farcting method?

By the way: Bulgaria had banned fracting as of a few days ago.

By anon167361 — On Apr 12, 2011

Did you remember hearing about how Nancy Pelosi owned a lot of stock in natural gas? How she encouraged the rising oil prices? That is because when oil becomes expensive enough, then the pursuit of "Tight Gas" becomes viable, and she can make some money. I think that is an ethics violation. These are the same people that encourage the EPA to regulate everything that goes on in the oilfields. But, the regulation pushes up prices, then gains can be made somewhere else.

I live in the Haynesville Shale area. There are many wells near my home. Wells are being drilled day and night, and have been all of my life. I would say within a mile radius, maybe two hundred wells, and those are just the oil wells. This natural gas boom is cause for more holes to be punched. I have built many drilling rigs, maybe a hundred, but I have never been a worker on one. We are so over regulated that it pushes oil exploration away from here to other parts of the world that have no regulation.

So, if we do it reasonably clean here, and the drilling goes to some other country, and they do it dirty, how does that help the environment? To be so "global" and to be so "green friendly", it doesn't seem to make very much sense. I also know offshore people, and people with shrimp boats. They went out every day working for the government during the so called "BP Crisis", but sadly, they never found any spilled oil. But, they did make a lot of money renting their boats out to the government and renting their camp houses to news reporters.

By healthnwell — On Jan 25, 2011

Nice article -- I had heard the term tight gas thrown around in the news lately but was confused as to what it was. I wonder if it is more explosive because it is so old and hard to get to? Does this make it more dangerous?

By moonTiger — On Jan 25, 2011

Oh, so that's what tight gas is! It will be interesting to see how companies go about extracting and using this gas, as well as the incentives that are offered to these companies to extract the gas.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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