MIT: United States has 92-Year Supply of Natural Gas, World 160 Years

Think it’s safe to say that over the past few months, there’s been no shortage of studies (some scientific, others not so much) exploring various aspects of shale gas development in the United States and globally, for that matter. This week, we welcome a new study from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which makes a number of policy recommendations to further the shale gas debate while offering observations on the impact and significance natural gas will have on domestic and global energy markets for decades to come.

From the press release accompanying the MIT report:

“While the new report emphasized the great potential for natural gas as a transitional fuel to help curb greenhouse gases and dependence on oil, it also stresses that it is important as a matter of national policy not to favor any one fuel or energy source in a way that puts others at a disadvantage. The most useful policies, the authors suggested, are ones that produce a truly “level playing field” for all forms of energy supply and for demand reduction, and thus let the marketplace, and the ingenuity of the nation’s researchers, determine the best options.”

The study is broken down into several sections: Supply, U.S. Gas Production, Use and Trade: Potential Futures, Demand, Infrastructure, Markets and Geopolitics, and finally, Research, Development and Demonstration. Totaling just over 100 pages, it certainly makes for good weekend reading, but in the mean time, we thought we’d pull out a few highlights:


  • Global supplies of natural gas are abundant. There is an estimated remaining resource base of 16,200 Tcf, this being the mean projection of a range between 12,400 Tcf (with a 90% probability of being exceeded) and 20,800 Tcf (with a 10% probability of being exceeded). The mean projection is 150 times the annual consumption of 108 Tcf in 2009. Except for Canada and the U.S., this estimate does not contain any unconventional supplies.”
  • “For this study, we have assumed a mean remaining resource base of around 2,100 Tcf [in the United States] — about 92 times the annual U.S. consumption of 22.8 Tcf in 2009.
  • “As a subset of this, the application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology to the shales has caused resource estimates to grow over a five-year period from a relatively minor 35 Tcf (NPC, 2003), to a current estimate of 615 Tcf (PGC, 2008), with a range of 420–870 Tcf. This resource growth is a testament to the power of technology application in the development of resources, and also provides an illustration of the large uncertainty inherent in all resource estimates.”

Environmental Stewardship and Track Record of Shale Gas Development

  • “With over 20,000 shale wells drilled in the last 10 years, the environmental record of shale gas development is for the most part a good one.”
  • “The protection of freshwater aquifers from fracture fluids has been a primary objective of oil and gas field regulation for many years As indicated in Table 2.2 [table below], there is substantial vertical separation between the freshwater aquifers and the fracture zones in the major shale plays.… Good oil-field practice and existing legislation should be sufficient to manage this risk.”

  • “Water supply and disposal issues, where they exist, could be addressed by requiring collaboration between operators on a regional basis to create integrated water usage and disposal plans. In addition, complete transparency about the contents of fracture fluids, which are for the most part benign, and the replacement of any potentially toxic components where they exist, could help to alleviate public concern.”

Energy/National Security

  • Transparent markets with diverse supply, whether global in reach or within large regions that encompass both major suppliers and large demand centers, do much to alleviate security risks.”
  • “The U.S. should sustain North American energy market integration and support development of a global “liquid” natural gas market with diversity of supply. A corollary is that the U.S. should not erect barriers to gas imports or exports.”
  • “The U.S. should continue to provide diplomatic and security support for the siting, construction and operation of global natural gas pipelines and LNG facilities that promote the strategic interest in diversity and security of supply and global gas market development.

That’s just a snapshot of what’s contained in the  MIT report, which is available in-full, HERE; certainly worth a full-read when you have a few minutes.

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