Appalachian Basin

Shale Gas is a Game Changer In Ohio and Across the World

In Ohio, you would get some weird looks if you walked down the street touting the Browns as a Super Bowl contender next year. I was met with the same reaction upon reading a recent letter to the editor in the Columbus Dispatch, “Don’t believe what you hear about shale gas.”  In this case, the topic was not American football, but rather a foreign journalist’s opinions on the energy revolution underway in the United States.

While there is certainly room for debate, a review of opinions around the globe support the idea that America’s newfound abundance of natural resources is more than just a passing fad, and is instead resulting in significant, and sustainable, developments at home and abroad.

For example, earlier this year coal, for the first time in our nation’s history, is no longer the leading source of fuel for electricity generation.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), as of April 2012 that privilege is now shared with natural gas thanks to the abundant quantities that have been unleashed through hydraulic fracturing.

What else has hydraulic fracturing helped achieve?  Well, also according to the EIA, it has increased oil production in North Dakota from roughly 100,000 barrels of oil per day (BPD) in 2007 to over 747,000 BPD in December 2012.  As a result, the state now has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate and its shipping crude oil to east coast refineries which is helping to displace more expensive sources of foreign oil.

This, of course, is just one example of a larger trend that has resulted in the United States becoming a net exporter of petroleum products for the first time in over 60 years.

Taken together, all of these factors led the International Energy Agency (IEA) to recently declare that the global energy map “is being redrawn by the resurgence in oil and gas production in the United States.” The report also notes that, by 2020, the United States will displace Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer.

But the trend isn’t limited to oil.  Indeed, hydraulic fracturing has unleashed massive supplies of natural gas across the nation.  In fact, in just four years the amount of natural gas pulled from the Marcellus Shale has bottomed out prices for the commodity.  Once trading at $11 per unit in 2008, producers are now lucky to catch prices north of $3 per unit.

How is this possible? Quite simply, shale wells across the United States are unleashing prolific amounts of natural gas that are blowing apart pre-established markets.  Take for example the fact that a single company’s Marcellus Shale wells are producing over 1 billion cubic of feet of natural gas each day.  What can 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas provide?  Well, it can supply over 24,000 homes with electricity for an entire year. It can also provide enough fuel for 86,000 natural gas vehicles to travel from Boston to San Francisco.

This significant uptick in natural gas production is already rattling global markets.  Russia, which has long wielded its natural gas supplies as an energy weapon over eastern Europe, has already agreed to re-examine the price of limited long-term contracts. The reason, you ask? Increased U.S. natural gas production has led supplies previous destined for U.S. to other nations.

Don’t take my word for it; a report from the James A Baker Institute for Public Policy predicted this trend well before it began.  Their ultimate assessment was that Russia’s market share of European natural gas supplies could erode from 27% to 13% thereby reducing Russia’s leverage over our European allies.

Given this set of circumstances, Russia is starting to take notice.  In fact, last year the Wall Street Journal noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed the state owned utility Gasprom to, as the WSJ put it, “retune its strategy to adapt to the growing threat from shale gas.”

It won’t just be Russia that suffers. According to the Baker Institute, U.S. shale gas will help diminish the petro-power of major natural gas producers and will be a “major factor” in limiting global dependence on the Middle East, Russia and Venezuela as well as other unstable regions.  One of the report’s authors summed this up succinctly, stating: the petro-power of Russia, Venezuela and Iran is faltering on the back of plentiful American natural gas supply.”  

These aren’t the opinions of individuals hyping the United States “shale gale,” rather they are the assessments of some of the world’s foremost authorities on energy policy.  For those who want to believe otherwise, I have some tickets to see the Browns play in the Super Bowl next year if you’re interested.

*Editor’s Note: This column was published in the Columbus Dispatch

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