Our ability to tap into North America's abundant shale gas resources was once thought to be limited. Now, new cutting-edge technologies have opened up enough of these resources to last for several generations.
Natural gas has been a vital U.S. energy resource for a century, but by the beginning of the 21st century, domestic gas drilling was not keeping pace with the growth in demand. Over the last decade, the combination of innovative drilling and well completion techniques have revolutionized the gas industry, opening up massive new sources of shale gas production in North America. The surge in shale gas production has sharply expanded supplies in the United States, helping to lower prices.
A Dramatic Increase in Supply
The U.S. Department of Energy estimated total U.S. natural gas reserves and resources to be approximately 1,200 TCF in 2000, or roughly 50 years of supply. Since that time, over 299 TCF of natural gas has been produced, yet the resource base estimate has risen to almost a century of supply at current consumption levels. The majority of the increase in supply is due to increased potential for tight gas, coal seam gas and shale gas. Shale gas resource estimates for 2010 were 482 TCF, up from only 55 TCF in 2000.
Worldwide, recoverable natural gas resources are estimated at about 34,000 TCF. At the current consumption level of 107 TCF per year, the conventional resources would equal more than 300 years of supply.
Technology Leads the Way
Until recently, it was impossible to access the vast amount of natural gas contained in shale rock. The rock was too impermeable for adequate amounts of gas to flow to a well, which is why it was considered an "unconventional" resource. In the 1980s, new technology made horizontal drilling both possible and economically feasible. When combined with hydraulic fracturing, an industry practice dating to the late 1940s, these technologies opened up significant new natural gas resources to production.
Beginning at near zero in 2000, U.S. shale gas production grew by 13.5 percent annually through 2005 and has grown by an average of 46 percent every year since. Other unconventional gas production has increased over this same period, offsetting the decline in conventional gas that costs more to produce.
Room to Grow
The ability to extract natural gas from shale plays has dramatically increased supply, but even that may be small in contrast to the scale of resources that could still be identified. The industry is largely focused on 12 shale plays around the country, but more continue to be discovered.
Natural gas production from shale has risen from only 2 percent of US supply ten years ago to 23 percent today, and this figure is expected to rise. By 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy projects that 35 percent of U.S. production will come from shale.
The ability to produce natural gas from shale formations has transformed the U.S. energy picture, turning an energy source once unable to be tapped economically into a plentiful domestic resource. Today, we have enough natural gas supply to last for several generations, with further advancements in technology offering the potential for even more. The abundant supply of natural gas is another reason why we believe it should be an important part of America's energy future.