Apr 04, 2011 4:40 PM GMT
More and faster, please. Frack, baby, frack.
With the nuclear industry in crisis and oil prices on the rise, could the solution to our energy problems be in the ground at home? Daniel Yergin on the promise of shale gas. [...]
As late as 2000, shale gas was just 1% of American natural-gas supplies. Today, it is about 25% and could rise to 50% within two decades. Estimates of the entire natural-gas resource base, taking shale gas into account, are now as high as 2,500 trillion cubic feet, with a further 500 trillion cubic feet in Canada. That amounts to a more than 100-year supply of natural gas, which is used for everything from home heating and cooking to electric generation, industrial processes and petrochemical feedstocks.
The effects of the "shale gale" are also being felt in the rest of the world, changing the economics of the liquefied-natural-gas business. Its impact on international energy relations could be significant. Some proponents believe that the U.S., once thought to be short of natural gas, could even become a natural-gas exporter.
It is a revolution that has progressed in stages. Hydraulic fracturing uses the concentrated pressure of water, sand and a small amount of chemicals to promote the flow of oil and gas in a reservoir. Mitchell Energy's breakthrough was to apply one particular approach—"light sand fracking"—to break up what had seemed impermeable: hard shale rock.
With this technique, the company's gas output began to climb, but capitalizing on the innovation would require a good deal more money. In 2002, Mr. Mitchell merged his company into a larger independent, Devon Energy.