What you don’t know about shale gas may surprise you

You don’t have to look far these days to find news articles talking about how natural gas from shale is boosting domestic energy supplies, creating jobs and revitalizing energy-intensive U.S. industries such as manufacturing.

But some recent articles also shed light on some lesser-known aspects of this shale gas “revolution” – ones that may not be as obvious, but are just as important:

  • Today’s shale gas “revolution” actually was decades in the making. In its cover story this week, “The United States of Natural Gas,” Fortune magazine shows how shale gas development is reviving the American economy. But the coverage also touches on a less-appreciated part of the energy business: how companies like ExxonMobil must invest and operate on timelines that can span decades. As one article points out, the shale gas technologies that are having such an impact today were still being developed back in the 1970s, when our CEO, Rex Tillerson, was a 24-year-old engineer completing wells in East Texas.
  • The jobs being created aren’t just in the oil and gas industry. As the Associated Press wrote this week, America’s shale gas activity is spurring demand not just for drillers and geologists but for a range of professions – everyone from software engineers to wildlife experts. These positions aren’t classified as “oil and gas jobs” when the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes its monthly U.S. jobs data, but they – along with many others – are a direct result of the increased energy activity in the United States. Other recent articles focus on the jobs that shale is creating for womenveterans and recent college grads.
  • States are the primary regulators of onshore oil and gas activities, including shale. A recent executive order from the White House made news for its intent to coordinate the dozen federal agencies and departments currently involved with various aspects of shale gas development. But as both the order and a recent Reuters article point out, states are the primary regulators. This is because much of the unconventional natural gas development takes place on private lands, and states have the most knowledge and experience with their own geology, resources, rules and regulations.
  • Shale gas can help reduce U.S. emissions. Rising availability of shale gas is encouraging utilities to switch from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas, said John Rowe, the former head of Exelon, one of the largest U.S. electricity producers. In an article in Forbes, Rowe called natural gas “an incredible national blessing” and said it is helping advance U.S. energy and environmental goals. Natural gas produces up to 60 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than coal when used for power generation.

It’s good to see America’s journalists and opinion leaders talking about natural gas, which for decades received relatively little attention even as it grew to become the country’s second-largest energy source. As the global demand for natural gas continues to grow – and it will by about 60 percent to 2040, according to ExxonMobil estimates – we’re sure to see increased public and media interest in this fuel source.