How significant is shale gas?
- Reserves may be huge though experts disagree on the details
- The US expects shale to provide nearly half its natural gas by 2035
- Extraction is likely to be much slower in densely populated Europe
Estimates of shale gas reserves vary widely. A US government assessment of 32 countries claimed they had 169 trillion cubic metres of technically recoverable shale gas – around the same as the world's economically recoverable reserves of conventional natural gas. The survey put the largest reserves in China, the US, Argentina and Mexico (see map). But the estimates keep changing. The official figure for the US was almost halved in early 2012, while Cuadrilla claims that its Blackpool site alone has 5 trillion cubic meters – ten times more than the US estimate for the whole UK. Similarly, China's own survey put its reserves nearly twice as high as the figure given in the US survey.
Whatever the size of the reserves, actual rates of extraction in each region will depend on economics and politics as well as technology. The US government expects shale gas to account for 46% of its natural gas extraction by 2035 and according to BP shale gas – along with tar sands and other unconventional fuels – will make the Americas largely self-sufficient in energy by 2030. By contrast, a Deutsche Bank report looking at the potential for shale in Europe concluded that there would be no 'shale gas revolution' there, due to factors such as higher population density and stronger environmental regulation.
There is now so much potential gas that for policy purposes it is better to assume that supplies have the potential to exceed demand … for the rest of the century.
Dieter Helm, Oxford energy academic
Those waiting for a shale gas 'revolution' outside the US will likely be disappointed, in terms of both price and the speed at which high-volume production can be achieved.
Some key players
- Cuadrilla Resources: the first company to frack for shale gas in the UK, which has put its Lancashire operation on hold but it is fiercely resisting a moratorium of fracking
- The EPA: the US Environmental Protection Agency which has acknowledged the link to pollution but so far done very little to regulate American fracking
- Josh Fox: director of Gaslands, a 2010 documentary which boosted awareness of the risks of fracking
- Frack Off: the campaign group leading the charge against fracking in the UK
- Dieter Helm: an Oxford energy academic who advocates using gas to cheaply cut emissions
- Charles Hendry: UK energy minister who says shale gas is "worth exploring"
- Barack Obama: insiders says the US administration hopes to rely on switching from coal to gas as its nod to global carbon reductions
- Latest news and comment on shale gas and fracking from guardian.co.uk
- 2011 reserves estimates by the US Energy Information Administration
- Environmental and climate change impacts of shale gas – critical report on shale gas impacts by the Tyndall Centre
- Energy and Climate Select Committee report – detailed assessment of the issues for the UK
- Separating fact from fiction in shale gas development – report from academics at the University of Texas which supports fracking but highlights bad practice
- US Department of Energy shale gas guide including information on history and technology
Date: 2016-01-14; view: 369