Like many other economic activities, the Fayetteville Shale natural gas "play" has slowed this year.

How much? That depends on who you ask.

The wholesale price of natural gas has skidded downward in recent months, but industry experts are saying the drop has leveled off.

A just-issued report from the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, however, shows that 2008 was significantly ahead of 2007 in gas drilling and production.

Activity began in the Fayetteville Shale in 2004, increased in 2005 and has continued to rise each year since. The name comes from an outcropping of the underground formation in downtown Fayetteville, but the gas drilling action to date has been in seven counties in central and north-central Arkansas — Conway, Van Buren, Faulkner, White, Cleburne, Jackson and Independence.

Arkansas has had natural gas production in the western part of the state for decades in the Arkoma field. Most of these wells are in Sebastian, Logan and Franklin counties with smaller numbers in Yell, Crawford, Johnson, Scott, Pope, Washington and Madison counties. The Fayetteville Shale gas production already is well ahead of the Arkoma field.

According to the 2008 totals listed by the Oil and Gas Commission, Van Buren County had the most gas production with 456 wells and 96,796,320,000 cubic feet of gas sold in the field. Van Buren’s gas wells are in the southern and southwestern part of the county. The previous year, Van Buren had 184 wells producing 31,866,105,0o0 cubic feet of gas.

Conway and White counties were close in 2008 in their gas activity.

For 2008, Conway County had 309 wells, up from 166 the year before, and produced 76,218,635,000 cubic feet of gas, up from 25,449,644,000 the year before.

White County last year had 363 wells, up from 166 in 2007, and produced 74,038,950,000 cubic feet of gas, up from 21,189,461 in 2007.

Faulkner County’s gas activity was well behind the three leading Fayetteville Shale counties. Faulkner’s wells are in the northern third of the county.

In Faulkner in 2008, 85 wells produced 12,420,025,000 cubic feet of gas, an increase from 2007’s 54 wells and 7,695,043,000 cubic feet of gas.

Cleburne County had its natural gas activity begin a little later than the other Fayetteville shale counties. In 2007, Cleburne had 18 wells, but these increased in 57 in 2008. Cleburne produced 2,355,390,000 cubic feet of gas in 2007, then 9,053,219,000 in 2008.

Independence County had no gas wells in 2007 and seven in 2008. Jackson County had no wells in 2007 and three in 2008.

The Fayetteville Shale gas drilling has brought dozens of businesses into the area with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of workers.

The two largest companies are Southwestern Energy with its Seeco subsidiary and Chesapeake Energy. Southwestern Energy has located its area headquarters in Conway, and Chesapeake has located at Searcy.

But other companies working in the gas play have located in many other communities — Springhill, Damascus, Greenbrier and Guy in Faulkner County. Some of these companies have dozens of employees. Some have just a handful.

Restaurants and motels in these areas have seen sharp increases in business, and housing rentals have been hard to find for some workers. A number of the workers have turned to travel trailers and other campers for living quarters.

Another activity linked to the Fayetteville Shale has been the building of a major pipeline from the heart of the gas production in Conway County across northern Faulkner County to White County. It will eventually go to the Mississippi River.