U.S. Natural Gas Reserves Promise Affordable Energy Future, Says DOE Official

Published February 2, 2011

A combination of new natural gas discoveries and rapid technological advances to recover the gas has spectacularly improved the U.S. domestic energy outlook, said Mitchell Baer, director of oil and gas analysis for the U.S. Department of Energy, at the 14th Annual Energy, Utility, and Environment Conference January 31 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Spectacular Shale Gas Reserves
Thanks in large part to advances in hydraulic fracturing production techniques, shale gas is driving the spectacular growth in recoverable U.S. natural gas reserves, Baer said.

“Shale gas production has increased 14-fold during the past 10 years,” he noted.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Baer explained, expects shale gas production to triple again by mid-century. The result, according to EIA forecasts, is many decades and perhaps centuries of dependable and affordable natural gas that will keep energy prices low.

Energy Independence
Baer said Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysts have determined the United States has approximately 650 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas reserves. Currently, the nation produces only 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year from all sources.

Natural gas is already a desirable energy source for those with energy independence concerns. The United States currently imports only 11 percent of the natural gas it uses, with most of those imports coming from Canada. With the new discoveries and technological advances regarding shale gas, Baer explained, EIA forecasts the United States by the year 2035 will import only 1 percent of the natural gas it uses.

New Deposits Coming into Play
The Barnett shale field in Texas has been the primary source of the spectacular growth in recent shale production, but EIA expects production in the Marcellus shale formation to overtake Barnett shale production by a large measure during the next several decades, Baer said.

States benefiting from substantial Marcellus shale formation natural gas reserves include New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland.

“The good news is there’s lots of shale gas out there. Now the better news: Every year the estimates of recoverable shale gas grow,” Baer proclaimed.

Activists Threaten Production
Responding to an audience question, Baer acknowledged environmental activist groups have been fighting to restrict shale gas production. Baer deferred comment and said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying the issue.

EPA has already done such at least one such study, however. EPA spent four years studying the issue and produced a final report in 2004 concluding fracturing “poses little or no threat to underground sources of drinking water and does not justify additional study at this time.”

During 2009 congressional hearings, EPA and U.S. Geological Survey officials confirmed they still had not documented any cases of hydraulic fracturing resulting in groundwater contamination.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.