As pointed out on Twitter by University of Alberta professor Andrew Leach, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has some interesting maps and animations available online showing the development of unconventional gas in the United States.
For example, here is an animation of the development of gas wells in the Barnett Shale between 1981 and 2010.
Estimates of how much unconventional gas America has at its disposal vary. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts it at around 37tcm of recoverable reserves, two-thirds of which is shale gas and the rest tight gas and coal-bed methane. Others say there is plenty more. Using the EIA numbers, President Barack Obama, in his state-of-the-union speech in January, said that America now has nearly 100 years of gas supplies at current consumption rates.
By itself, switching to gas will not reduce emissions to anything like the levels required to avoid a high risk of serious climate change. This will take much crunchier policies to boost renewable-energy sources and other clean technologiesâ€”starting with a strong price on carbon emissions, through a market-based mechanism or, preferably, a carbon tax. Governments are understandably unwilling to take these steps in straitened times. Yet they should plan to do so; and in the coming years cheap gas could help free cash for more investment in low-carbon technologies. Otherwise the bonanza would be squandered.
THE shale-gas revolution in America has been as sudden and startling as a supertanker performing a handbrake turn. A country that once fretted about its dependence on Middle Eastern fossil fuels is now on the verge of self-sufficiency in natural gas. And the news keeps getting better. This week the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that the United States would become the worldâ€™s largest oil producer by 2020, outstripping Saudi Arabia and Russia (see article).
Why has this happened? Price signals work. Oil has been costly for more than a decade. This has spurred prospectors to look harder for unconventional fuels: oil and gas that lie deep under the sea, buried in shale beds or stuck in Canadaâ€™s vast oil sands (see article). They have developed whizzy technology to extract these hydrocarbons, with such success that North America now has a gas glut. Prices have plummeted, prompting shale-gas frackers to drill for pricier shale oil instead. According to the IEA, America could become self-sufficient in energy by 2035. Bolder analysts say sooner. Canada has immense potential, too. Besides the oil sands, a recent report suggests that the province of Alberta alone may have shale gas and oil reserves to rival Americaâ€™s.