The Obama administration is quite partial to taking credit for the widespread economic benefits of the shale boom — brought on by the freshly deployed technology of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling — despite the fact that the lion’s share of the production increase has happened on state and private lands while the federal government has deliberately slow-walked new drilling leases on the third of the surface area of the United States it controls (and let’s not even get started on the offshore drilling opportunities it has actively thwarted). This rule has held particularly true in Nevada, where the feds own over 80 percent of the land and have been fairly passive-aggressive in only processing a few mining and drilling permits here and there — which is a damn shame, because eastern Nevada sits atop the Chainman shale play and could potentially benefit enormously from the widespread introduction of hydraulic fracturing.

In 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the Chainman formation could have as much as 1.598 billion barrels of oil and 1.836 trillion cubic feet of natural gas sittin’ pretty underground, and it looks like energy companies are finally getting around to exploring the possibility further — mostly on private land so far, but with at least the tiniest bit of cooperation from the federal government, via the AP:

In a state world-famous as a gold producer, Houstonbased Noble Energy Inc. is looking deep underground to make big bucks from previously untappable oil deposits, spending up to $130 million to identify the possible rewards.

The venture is still in its early stages, with company representatives saying they have yet to assess the true potential, but word is out it could be significant. …

“What’s unique about Nevada is it really is a frontier area,” said Kevin Vorhaben, Rockies business unit manager for Noble Energy. “It’s a chance to get in and really do the right thing for oil and gas development. We’re excited to be in Nevada.” …

Noble’s activities target a checkerboard of private and public land in northeastern Nevada generally located between Elko and Wells north and south of Interstate 80. Sixty-seven percent of the 580-plus square-mile area is privately owned, with the remaining public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM is currently processing environmental assessments for Noble to drill up to 20 wells at Mary’s River, 4 miles northwest of Wells and up to another 20 just west of Jiggs. Fracking would be used to complete all wells drilled.

The two exploratory wells already drilled, with fracking already conducted at one, are located on private land about 17 miles east of Elko.

It’s too soon to know if Nevada will be the next North Dakota or Texas when it comes to shale development and economically viable extraction, but at least the federal government isn’t totally trying to stand in the way of progress here. That’s something, I suppose.