Monday, February 20, 2012

The Shale Boom

It may be hard to believe with gas prices set to rise above $4.25 a gallon by late April, but this article suggests we're poised on the cusp of the millenial kingdom of energy. Of course the article is an oil industry publication, but still.

It appears that domestic energy production will soon solve our employment problems, our energy dependence problems, and possibly our balance of payments and debt problems. It sounds too good to be true so take it with a grain of salt, but the claims in the article would seem to be easy to refute were they false and easy to confirm if they're true:
A funny thing is happening on the way to the clean energy future–reality is setting in. There is ‘incontrovertible evidence’ about the economic growth and job creating effects of America’s unconventional oil and gas production boom – more than 600,000 jobs directly attributable to shale gas development. Even President Obama is praising the job creating benefits of ‘America’s resource boom’. America is getting its energy mojo back and that is good news but not the entire story.

Total US recoverable natural gas resources (includes conventional, unconventional in lower 48, Alaska and offshore) totals 4.244 quadrillion cubic feet according to the Institute for Energy Research:
  • Enough natural gas to meet US electricity demand for 575 years at current fuel demand for generation levels.
  • Enough natural gas to fuel homes heated by natural gas in the United States for 857 years.
  • More natural gas than Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkmenistan combined.
Global oil shale resources exceed 10 trillion barrels. More than 1.8 trillion barrels of oil are trapped in shale in Federal lands in the western United States in the states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, of which 800 billion is considered recoverable–three times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia.

A report from Price/Waterhouse/Coopers for the National Association of Manufacturers says low cost domestic natural gas will save $11 billion per year in US manufacturing costs over the next ten years and create more than a million new jobs. This new low cost energy reality is expected to increase disposable income by $2,000 per year per household in the United States.
Moreover, natural gas is the likely replacement for coal which is great for air quality as well as the economy:
After pursuing a virtual war on fossil fuels imposing one new regulation after another to undermine the economics and weaken the support for low cost energy production in order to reduce demand and thus emissions, opponents of fossil fuels are also faced with a stark new reality.

New regulations may force the premature closure of coal generation plants, but that capacity is likely to be replaced with high efficiency natural gas fired generation not renewable energy. Low gas prices are a much more virulent threat to coal than anything the US EPA can dream up in regulations and more ruthlessly efficient. So older coal plants will be replaced with newer, cleaner, cheaper natural gas plants not a bad market outcome. Not a bad environmental outcome either.
There's much more good news of this sort at the link. I suggest you digest it slowly since too much optimism taken too quickly can be hard on the heart after a decade of consistently gloomy prognostications about American decline and rising fuel costs.