The ‘Age of Shale’ and America’s Energy Future

With billions of dollars in new investments and global interest soaring, the shale revolution is here to stay.

Shh…don’t tell the New York Times, but it looks like America’s energy renaissance in shale — which has been fueling economic recovery from North Dakota to Texas and Louisiana to Pennsylvania — is going to last for a long, long time.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, in a story aptly stating that the “Age of Shale” has arrived:

Shale discoveries have reinvigorated U.S. oil and gas production that just half a dozen years ago was widely seen as in terminal decline. Today, there is a glut of cheap natural gas, and domestic oil production is rising for the first time in decades. Shale development is even spreading to other countries, such as Poland and Argentina.

The shale boom has already minted a half-dozen new billionaires comparable to the riches brought by the Internet.

“You certainly have to record the discovery and the exploitation of resources from both oil and gas shales as one of the great wealth creators in American history,” said Ralph Eads, vice-chairman of investment bank Jefferies & Co., which has advised on more than $75 billion worth of shale deals over the last three years. “It looks to be the economic equivalent to any of the big technology innovations.”

Recent market developments further highlight this trend. Kinder Morgan Inc. announced this past weekend that it would be buying El Paso Corporation in a deal worth approximately $38 billion. The acquisition will ultimately create the fourth-largest energy company in North America.

What prompted that enormous deal? El Paso owns the largest natural gas pipeline system in North America, with more than 43,000 miles of gas pipelines. As Reuters points out, the deal combines “the two largest natural gas pipeline operators in North America in a huge bet on the fast-growing market for that fuel.”

More from Reuters:

Despite weak natural gas prices, production of the fuel has been rising as energy companies pile into shale fields — underground formations rich in oil and gas. In the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, where there are scant pipelines, companies are having to rely on trucks and are building rail terminals to handle the vast field’s output.

El Paso already owned the largest natural gas pipeline system in North America, with more than 43,000 miles of pipe. The combined company would own 67,000 miles of natural gas pipe and another 13,000 miles of pipelines to move refined products and other fuels.

“We believe that natural gas is going to play an increasingly integral role in North America,” Kinder Morgan Chief Executive Richard Kinder said in a statement. “We are delighted to be able to significantly expand our natural gas transportation footprint at a time when it seems likely thatdomestic natural gas supply and demand will grow at attractive rates for years to come.”

And this is only one of stories out this week about the growing shale revolution. Statoil ASA has also announced that it is purchasing Brigham Exploration to get a piece of the mighty Bakken Shale in North Dakota. The purchase makes Statoil one of the top 10 holders of Bakken acreage, and shows how shale development is attracting massive amounts of direct investment in American energy development.

Less than a decade ago, few would have predicted that these massive investments would take place. But through the expanded use of proven technologies like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the United States has completely transformed its position in the global economy, not only with respect to energy security, but also with the capacity for job creation and economic growth.

In Pennsylvania, the development of the Marcellus shale has led to a rebirth of manufacturing, especially the steel industry. A study from Penn State shows that Pennsylvanians saved more than $630 million on their utility bills thanks to shale gas production, and the oil and gas industry in the Keystone State has helped create nearly 50,000 jobs in 2011. In Texas, the Eagle Ford shale is not only creating much-needed jobs, but is also putting the state’s finances on a stronger footing: In November, more than $1 billion will be added to the state’s rainy day fund, revenue that is mostly generated from oil and gas production. And thanks to the development of the Haynesville shale in northern Louisiana, Shreveport-Bossier is now the ninth fastest growing metropolitan area in the entire country. In Ohio, developers are only just beginning to invest billions of dollars into local economies to tap the resources of the Utica Shale.

By 2017 the United States could be the largest oil producer in the world — thanks mostly to shale oil development in places like the Bakken and the Eagle Ford — and shale gas is already allowing countries in Europe to think about disentangling themselves from the Russians.

America’s energy future is perhaps brighter than it has ever been, a status that owes itself to the continued and responsible development of domestic shale resources.

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