The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Energy and Land

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 9, 2015

So, Facebook has posted an announcement that its newest data center near Fort Worth (artist’s rendition below) will be 100 percent powered by a wind farm that’s being built near Wichita Falls, Texas. Of the wind farm Facebook says:

facebookConstruction on the project is already under way on a 17,000-acre site in Clay County, just 90 miles from the data center, and we expect it to begin delivering clean energy to the grid by 2016. 200 MW is more energy than we will need for the foreseeable future, and we're proud to have played a role in bringing this project to Texas.

No question, this is a good example of one way that big wind figures into an all-of-the-above approach to energy – one in which America ensures its energy security into the future by harnessing all available energy sources.

The project also is a good illustration of energy development’s economic reach – 250 jobs building the wind farm, with its 119 wind turbines, each towering more than 250 feet, and other project components. There also are indirect and induced jobs and the economic stimulus in supplying the materials and support services for project. All welcome.

According to Alterra Power, one of the wind facility’s co-owners, the 119 wind mills will generate 790,100 MWh of power a year on those 17,000 acres.

Given calls to minimize the footprint of large energy infrastructure projects, that sure sounds like a lot of acres. It’s about 26 square miles – an area the size of Arlington County in Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. So we wondered: How many acres would be needed for shale natural gas to generate 709,100 MWh a year?

Short answer: Not nearly 17,000.

Here’s the math. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s June Drilling Productivity Report, the average annual production per new shale natural gas well was 1,562 thousand cubic feet per day. Multiply that by 365 (days). Then multiply by 0.099 (MWh per thousand cubic feet) for an average power plant, and you get 56,442 MWh per year per well. So, it would take roughly 14 new natural gas wells to produce 790,100 MWh in a year.

Drill pads vary in size but in the Marcellus, for example, they’re typically between 3 and 5 acres. For the purposes of this calculation, we’ll use 5 acres. Multiply that by 14 and you get 70 – as in 70 acres needed to generate the same energy as this 17,000-acre wind farm in the first year of production. Wells decline in output over time, and new ones would have to be drilled to maintain that level of production. But you could drill a lot of wells over a number of years and not occupy 17,000 acres – especially when you consider that when a well goes into production its footprint shrinks to about 1.5 acres.

All of this isn’t to suggest the wind farm shouldn’t be built. Yes, build it and build more. And drill the natural gas wells, too. America and the world benefit from abundant, affordable and available energy, and we need the right policies to continue our energy revolution.

For more on wind energy and an all-of-the-above approach to energy, see this piece on Iowa from API’s “America’s Energy” series on National Journal


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.