Shale gas could supply 100 years of consumption

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The natural gas shale boom in North America has more than doubled discovered gas resources and can supply more than a century of consumption at current rates, an IHS CERA study released Wednesday said.

A gas drilling site on the Marcellus Shale is seen in Hickory, Pennsylvania February 24, 2009. REUTERS/ Jason Cohn

“As recently at 2007 it was widely thought that natural gas was in tight supply and the U.S. was going to become an importer of gas,” said Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS CERA. “But this outlook has been turned on its head by the shale gale.”

Shale gas is not new, but technology like hydraulic fracturing to release it from thick rock far underground has vastly improved producers’ ability to tap it. Production involves injecting water and sand under high pressure into the rock to fracture it to release the gas.

The IHS CERA study said growth in power demand in the next 20 years will likely cause natural gas demand to double its current level of 19 billion cubic feet per day by 2030.

Gas-fired power generation produces half the carbon emissions of coal-fired generation, which makes gas a more attractive environmental choice as well, the study said.

But a limited pool of spare gas-fired capacity would prevent wholesale fuel switching, the study said.

Also, such switching won’t reach targets of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050, the study said. That would require more non-carbon emitting sources, such as nuclear and renewables, as well as carbon capture and storage, or injecting and storing carbon emissions underground.

The study said uncertainties about shale gas include stringency of future carbon legislation and viability of carbon capture and storage technology.

Tom Walters, president of Exxon Mobil Corp’s gas and power marketing company, said during a panel discussion that shale gas’s future success depends on policies that promote and support its development.

Concerns about how hydraulic fracturing might affect underground water tables has prompted Congress to consider increased regulation.

Reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by Walter Bagley