U.S. EIA forecasts growing domestic natural gas supplies – and Americans will benefit

When the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its Annual Energy Outlook 2011 last week, growing U.S. shale gas production was the major headline.

The upswing of natural gas in general is good news for several reasons: It’s a cleaner-burning fuel for power generation, resulting in up to 60 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than coal; the abundance of domestic gas supplies helps strengthen U.S. energy security; and growing gas production means more jobs and economic activity in states across the U.S.

But if you go back only five or 10 years, few would have been talking about these benefits of domestic supplies of natural gas. That’s because even though industry experts knew for many years that the U.S. contains large supplies of natural gas trapped in hard, dense shale formations, they didn’t have the technology to access it in a cost-effective way.

Today, thanks to recent technological advancements, we can safely and efficiently access these enormous natural gas supplies. And the size estimates of the U.S. shale gas resource base continue to grow.

According to the EIA, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, the “technically recoverable unproved shale gas resource is 827 trillion cubic feet,” which is 480 trillion cubic feet larger than the EIA’s estimate in its 2010 outlook.

To put such figures in perspective, consider that estimates based on previous EIA data indicate that the U.S. contains about 100 years of domestic natural gas supplies at current demand levels.

With this growth in supply comes growth in employment and economic activity. According to a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, U.S. employment in natural gas rose 17 percent from 2006 to 2008, representing one in four net new jobs created during that time throughout the economy. Additionally, the natural gas industry supports an estimated 2.8 million U.S. jobs, and more than 30 states are home to 10,000+ natural gas jobs each.

The key to taking advantage of this abundant, cleaner-burning fuel is promoting policies that not only allow safe production of natural gas, but also enable it to compete on a level playing field. It’s important to note that this resurgence of U.S. natural gas supplies isn’t supported by government subsidies or mandates; it’s supported by advancements in technology that simply make it competitive in the marketplace. But that’s only the case when government policies don’t pick winners and losers by artificially supporting other fuels through long-term subsidies.

I talked a little about natural gas policy options on the blog earlier this year, but you can learn more in API’s “Freeing Up Energy” brochure. In just a few weeks we’ll also be releasing ExxonMobil’s annual Energy Outlook, which contains more information about the growth of natural gas.


4 Comments

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  1. Paul Schuman says:

    I appreciate the vast reserves of natural gas that your scientists have stated exist below the various shale formations across our nation. But I take issue with your claim that we have developed a safe and environmentally friendly technology to extract the gas from the shale.
    I own a vacation home in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania called Eagles Mere. I am very concerned about the 1400 cited accidents that have been reported due to hydraulic fracturing. Just to list a few, Lawrence Township in Clearfield County spilled millions of frakking water into the forest soil. Lycoming County reported a valve that was open and spewed frakking liquid into the soil. Dimmock, Pa. has had a problem with Cabot Oil ruining their tap water. And I could go on and on.
    I also am concerned about the affect on our beautiful natural landscape. I go to Eagles Mere to enjoy the hiking and clean water streams. With 40,000 wells projected to be built in the next 10 years in Pa., that landscape will be permenantly changed for the worst. In addition, the quiet way of life will be altered with thousands of heavy trucks traveling through the area to deliver the water and dispose of the frakking water. Also, the out of town workers who are brought into the local towns to work on the drill pads are causing all kinds of social upheaval.

    I also take issue with your statement that this drilling has not been influenced by federal legislative policy. If that is true, then why did Dick Cheney, in 2005 lobby and finally persuade the legislature to exempt all natural gas drilling from the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. That sure… read more »

    …sounds like federal posturing that clearly benefits one technology and natural resource over others. And what information were the oil and gas companies afraid of divulging if they needed this environmentally disastrous loophole in order to begin their drilling?

    In areas of the country where hydaraulic frakking has a 10 year or longer track record, we are discovering that animals and people are suffering serious health issues from the exposure to these frakking chemicals and methane from the gas itself. It is getting into our water tables (people are lighting their tap water- see the movie Gasland). Your claim that this is a clean and environmentally safe energy source is seriously flawed.

    You have a lofty claim of 100 years of gas supplies; but at what cost? If I can’t enjoy the beautiful Endless Mountains, drink my water, and be secure that my property value will stay intact, is it worth it?

    • Ken Cohen says:

      Paul, thanks for your comment. Hydraulic fracturing is an important topic of discussion for a lot of people around the country, and I’ll be addressing it more on my blog in 2011. In the meantime, I think it’s important to know that while many consider hydraulic fracturing a “new” technology, it has actually been used since the 1940s in more than 1 million wells in the United States. What’s “new” is the fact that technological advancements, such as horizontal drilling, have allowed the industry to apply fracturing techniques in different ways and therefore unlock enormous supplies of cleaner-burning natural gas found here in the United States. And, new technologies are helping reduce the surface area of natural gas production sites and minimize the impact to the environment.

      In relation to GasLand, I’d encourage you to read Energy in Depth’s post which debunks a wide range of statements and claims made in that film: http://www.energyindepth.org/2010/06/debunking-gasland

      You may also be interested to read Energy In Depth’s commentary on the recent 60 Minutes piece on fracking, which addresses some of your other questions including how industry is regulated under various environmental statutes: http://www.energyindepth.org/2010/11/rock-around-the-clock

      Of course, hydraulic fracturing is just one part of the natural gas production process, so it’s still important that the industry maintains a range of safety standards that apply to the entire process, from well design and construction to maintenance of producing wells.

      As I mentioned, I plan to talk more about fracking in future blog posts, so I hope you’ll join us for further discussions about how we can safely and reliably produce this much-needed resource.

    • russ kelley says:

      Paul,
      I think Ken’s reply to you was overly polite but that’s in his job description, and rightfully so.
      i don’t know him or work anywhere in the energy industry, so lets bounce around a little reality stuff.
      Lets take the last 50 or so years – since computers & statisticians track everything from fatalities to how fruit flies mate. Wanna take a guess how many people have been injured & killed by vehicles? Do you notice every once in awhile, airplanes with lots of people in them..land under very unfortunate circumstances? Ever listen to the pharmaceutical commercials for the drugs you do or one day will take? I live in Tamp Bay & most every year we kinda lead the nation in pedestrian &/or bicyclist deaths & injuries. Ban pedestrians I say! Do you read & research what’s in the processed & junk food billions of people consume? Of course not or you wouldn’t eat most of them. i wont bore you with more facts. But i will say that energy prices were as much to blame for the financial crash as anything. And I’d bet the energy industry safety record meets or exceeds any other comparably risky business.
      My point is that nothing’s perfect. I read & watched the links from here & other energy web sites lately. i’m very interested in my and my children’s energy future – including the cost and safety.
      Do you think any of the millions of people who work in the energy industry have family & kids who drink water, breathe the air or enjoy scenic beauty? Sounds like maybe there’s a lot of litigation & lawyerly ‘advice’ flying around your neck of the woods.
      If we don’t get domestic energy out of the ground right here & now a lot of people… read more »

      …are going to be living in cardboard boxes with a fire pit.
      So we better all hope these fossil energy people get a chance to show their stuff.
      Just sayin’.

  2. john thaller says:

    So, we burn up all the precious natural gas, then what. We are talking running out of fuels in 100 years. Nice, so my kids grandkids will end up figuring out how to live without fossil fuels, not us. Why can’t we do it, because first we are lazy, second, no one wants to take responsibility at the individual level, like making sure your windows don’t leak.

  3. Paul Schuman says:

    I appreciate the vast reserves of natural gas that your scientists have stated exist below the various shale formations across our nation. But I take issue with your claim that we have developed a safe and environmentally friendly technology to extract the gas from the shale.
    I own a vacation home in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania called Eagles Mere. I am very concerned about the 1400 cited accidents that have been reported due to hydraulic fracturing. Just to list a few, Lawrence Township in Clearfield County spilled millions of frakking water into the forest soil. Lycoming County reported a valve that was open and spewed frakking liquid into the soil. Dimmock, Pa. has had a problem with Cabot Oil ruining their tap water. And I could go on and on.
    I also am concerned about the affect on our beautiful natural landscape. I go to Eagles Mere to enjoy the hiking and clean water streams. With 40,000 wells projected to be built in the next 10 years in Pa., that landscape will be permenantly changed for the worst. In addition, the quiet way of life will be altered with thousands of heavy trucks traveling through the area to deliver the water and dispose of the frakking water. Also, the out of town workers who are brought into the local towns to work on the drill pads are causing all kinds of social upheaval.

    I also take issue with your statement that this drilling has not been influenced by federal legislative policy. If that is true, then why did Dick Cheney, in 2005 lobby and finally persuade the legislature to exempt all natural gas drilling from the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. That sure… read more »

    …sounds like federal posturing that clearly benefits one technology and natural resource over others. And what information were the oil and gas companies afraid of divulging if they needed this environmentally disastrous loophole in order to begin their drilling?

    In areas of the country where hydaraulic frakking has a 10 year or longer track record, we are discovering that animals and people are suffering serious health issues from the exposure to these frakking chemicals and methane from the gas itself. It is getting into our water tables (people are lighting their tap water- see the movie Gasland). Your claim that this is a clean and environmentally safe energy source is seriously flawed.

    You have a lofty claim of 100 years of gas supplies; but at what cost? If I can’t enjoy the beautiful Endless Mountains, drink my water, and be secure that my property value will stay intact, is it worth it?

    • Ken Cohen says:

      Paul, thanks for your comment. Hydraulic fracturing is an important topic of discussion for a lot of people around the country, and I’ll be addressing it more on my blog in 2011. In the meantime, I think it’s important to know that while many consider hydraulic fracturing a “new” technology, it has actually been used since the 1940s in more than 1 million wells in the United States. What’s “new” is the fact that technological advancements, such as horizontal drilling, have allowed the industry to apply fracturing techniques in different ways and therefore unlock enormous supplies of cleaner-burning natural gas found here in the United States. And, new technologies are helping reduce the surface area of natural gas production sites and minimize the impact to the environment.

      In relation to GasLand, I’d encourage you to read Energy in Depth’s post which debunks a wide range of statements and claims made in that film: http://www.energyindepth.org/2010/06/debunking-gasland

      You may also be interested to read Energy In Depth’s commentary on the recent 60 Minutes piece on fracking, which addresses some of your other questions including how industry is regulated under various environmental statutes: http://www.energyindepth.org/2010/11/rock-around-the-clock

      Of course, hydraulic fracturing is just one part of the natural gas production process, so it’s still important that the industry maintains a range of safety standards that apply to the entire process, from well design and construction to maintenance of producing wells.

      As I mentioned, I plan to talk more about fracking in future blog posts, so I hope you’ll join us for further discussions about how we can safely and reliably produce this much-needed resource.

    • russ kelley says:

      Paul,
      I think Ken’s reply to you was overly polite but that’s in his job description, and rightfully so.
      i don’t know him or work anywhere in the energy industry, so lets bounce around a little reality stuff.
      Lets take the last 50 or so years – since computers & statisticians track everything from fatalities to how fruit flies mate. Wanna take a guess how many people have been injured & killed by vehicles? Do you notice every once in awhile, airplanes with lots of people in them..land under very unfortunate circumstances? Ever listen to the pharmaceutical commercials for the drugs you do or one day will take? I live in Tamp Bay & most every year we kinda lead the nation in pedestrian &/or bicyclist deaths & injuries. Ban pedestrians I say! Do you read & research what’s in the processed & junk food billions of people consume? Of course not or you wouldn’t eat most of them. i wont bore you with more facts. But i will say that energy prices were as much to blame for the financial crash as anything. And I’d bet the energy industry safety record meets or exceeds any other comparably risky business.
      My point is that nothing’s perfect. I read & watched the links from here & other energy web sites lately. i’m very interested in my and my children’s energy future – including the cost and safety.
      Do you think any of the millions of people who work in the energy industry have family & kids who drink water, breathe the air or enjoy scenic beauty? Sounds like maybe there’s a lot of litigation & lawyerly ‘advice’ flying around your neck of the woods.
      If we don’t get domestic energy out of the ground right here & now a lot of people… read more »

      …are going to be living in cardboard boxes with a fire pit.
      So we better all hope these fossil energy people get a chance to show their stuff.
      Just sayin’.

  4. john thaller says:

    So, we burn up all the precious natural gas, then what. We are talking running out of fuels in 100 years. Nice, so my kids grandkids will end up figuring out how to live without fossil fuels, not us. Why can’t we do it, because first we are lazy, second, no one wants to take responsibility at the individual level, like making sure your windows don’t leak.