The Shale Gas Revolution (II)

The second part of the article describes the origins of the shale gas industry and the prospects for the future in the United States.

The beginning of the revolution: the development of the shale gas industry in the United States

US Shale Gas Plays

Production of shale gas has profoundly changed the US natural gas industry during the past decade.  In 2000 shale gas provided less than 1% of the domestic gas production. Nowadays it accounts for more than 20% of the US gas supply and it is expected to rise to over 45% by 2035. Shale gas industry is providing large natural gas supplies. A direct consequence of this oversupply is a significant drop in the US gas prices, i.e. the shale gas revolution means abundant supplies of cheap natural gas. The main factors that have favoured the development of the shale gas industry are the following:

Geology: Due to the characteristics of the shale gas reservoirs (shale gas plays) in the US, the extraction process is relatively easy. The shale gas plays are large and shallow.

Regulation: The US regulations regarding environmental issues are fairly permissive. Moreover, there are several tax deductions for shale gas operations. Regarding the property rights in the US, they make the shale gas the property of the landowner and obviously this is an incentive for people to allow the disruptions associated with shale gas production.

Government support: In general, the government has always supported shale gas operations. Public investment in Research and Development (R&D) has significantly contributed to the development of the technologies required to extract shale gas. Energy self-sufficiency is a key priority for the US government.

Is the revolution likely to continue?

Taking into account the factors described above and the fast growth of shale gas production during the last decade, it seems reasonable to think that the revolution is likely to continue in the US. Nevertheless, there are two important threats that could have an impact on the shale gas development in the near future:

Environmental concern: the growing environmental concern is creating strong opposition to shale gas operations. Nowadays shale gas production is an extremely controversial issue in the US. Sensationalist documentaries such as Gasland and Truthland are representative examples of how polarized the debate about shale gas has become. Several studies from different prestigious universities (Cornell, MIT, University of Texas, etc) have shown fairly different results regarding greenhouse emissions and water supplies contamination. It seems evident that more research will be needed in order to obtain conclusions. In the meantime, recommendations to minimize environmental impact have been created by the US Department of Energy and the International Energy Agency (Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas).

Uncertainty regarding recoverable resources: The shale gas resources estimates have been constantly revised during the past few years. The resulting uncertainty could inhibit investment in shale gas development.

Another key question is discussed in the third part of the article: is it possible to replicate this revolution in Europe? Finally, conclusions are presented.

In WLT| The Shale Gas Revolution (I)

Sources and More information| Are we entering a golden age of gas?, The ‘Shale Gas Revolution’: Developments and ChangesShale gas fracking – Q&AWhat is shale gas and why is it important?

Picture| US Shale Gas Plays

Author Spotlight

Sergio de la Torre

Current Position:

Engineer at BPP-TECH. London, United Kingdom.

Associate Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).


Mechanical Engineer. Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros, University of Sevilla, Spain.

MSc in Advanced Mechanical Engineering. Cranfield University, United Kingdom.

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