Drillers are closing in on the most efficient and consistent way to produce oil from the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale across Louisiana’s midsection, but low prices will strongly affect drilling activity. Likewise, natural gas prices will hamper activity in the Haynesville Shale in northwest Louisiana until proposed export terminals are operating, energy summit experts said Wednesday.

Liquefied natural gas exports present a tremendous economic opportunity for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, supporters said during the LSU Center for Energy Studies’ annual summit.

It’s not a choice of having a manufacturing renaissance versus LNG exports, Matt Barr, manager of government affairs for Cheniere Energy, said of competition for supply.

Frank Macchiarola, a spokesman from Americas Natural Gas Alliance, said a number of forecasts show the country has enormous supplies of gas, more than enough to support exports.

Macchiarola said he found it interesting that companies that depend on a robust export market want to limit exports of LNG.

Some chemical and other manufacturers that depend on natural gas as a feedstock or energy source oppose exports on the basis that gas prices could rise.

Deniese Palmer-Huggins, senior energy adviser at the University of Texas BEG Center for Energy Economics, said there are questions about how much natural gas will be available to meet the growth in demand.

Most producers are losing money at the current price of about $4 per thousand cubic feet.

There will have to be a lot of drilling in order to maintain the natural gas supply because production from wells in shale formations decline rapidly, Palmer-Huggins said. Several factors are increasing the demand for natural gas, including the increase in gas-fired power plants and the corresponding drop in facilities burning coal, the manufacturing renaissance or “shale gale” from $90 billion in projects, and LNG exports.

Palmer-Huggins said there will be a gap between production and demand, and drillers will require higher prices to fill that gap.

By 2030, the price of natural gas could rise to about $10 per thousand cubic feet, she said.

In a discussion on the prospects for the natural gas-rich Haynesville Shale, Reagan “RT” Dukes, senior analyst with energy research firm Wood Makenzie, said U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas that are expected to boost prices are three and four years out.

Until then, low prices will continue to hamper drilling in the Haynesville.

In fact, 2015 is expected to be the low point for the Haynesville, he said. Production will increase as LNG facilities, most of which are in Louisiana, come online.

“We do think Haynesville production basically triples from where it is today” by 2030, Dukes said.

As for the oil-rich Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, “the TMS is a tough ride,” said Kirk Barrell, president of Amelia Resources.

On the plus side, the Tuscaloosa has lots of oil. Estimates range from 7 billion to as many as 20 billion barrels. But the formation is still in its infancy.

With well costs of $14 million, the highest among U.S. shale formations, lower oil prices affect the Tuscaloosa more than other plays, Barrell said. The Tuscaloosa covers central Louisiana and stretches into Mississippi.

Barrell said he doesn’t know what will happen with oil prices, but $80 oil is probably the breaking point in the Tuscaloosa. Current prices are just above that level.

Barrell said there have been 131 horizontal wells permitted in the Tuscaloosa. By comparison, the Eagle Ford in Texas — a more mature and prolific oil formation — has 16,134.

Energy companies are working to reduce well costs in the TMS, but it will take time and it will take a lot of capital, Barrell said.

Barrell said 50 wells have been completed in the Tuscaloosa, most of them in Amite County, Mississippi. Wilkinson County is expected to catch up quickly. Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes will do so eventually.

Barrell said he doesn’t think that Helis’ planned well in St. Tammany Parish, which drew public opposition, will lead to many more. The geological research doesn’t support that, Barrell said, though he hopes he is wrong. Successful wells in the eastern portion of the formation would be huge, he added.

Meanwhile, the abundant, inexpensive natural gas fueling Louisiana’s manufacturing renaissance and its expected short-term spike in employment is adding to the pressure on the state’s workforce, particularly in the energy industry, said Stephen Barnes, director of the Division of Economic Development at LSU’s E.J. Ourso College of Business.

The oil and gas industry will have to replace close to 3 percent of its workers each year, more than the number of new workers that will be needed for the new jobs the industrial boom is expected to create, Barnes said. Large numbers of baby boomers are nearing retirement age, adding to the stress on a workforce whose numbers had already been thinned by the oil-patch bust in the 1980s.

It will be a challenge to find those workers, he said.

The energy summit attracted between 150 and 200 people, which David Dismukes, executive director of the Center for Energy Studies, said was a record.