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Page added on December 25, 2011

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Shale gas puts some energy independence within reach for U.S.


Ever since Richard Nixon’s 1973 promise to attain energy independence, successive U.S. presidents all have pledged the same goal — even as foreign supplies composed a larger and larger share of the U.S. energy mix.

Now, almost 40 years later, a measure of independence is within reach. But as this booming town in northeastern Pennsylvania shows, the quest for independence involves both opportunities and trade-offs.

It may surprise many, but in less than a decade, the U.S. could pass its 1970s peak as an oil and natural gas producer. If that happens — and many analysts think it’s possible — the U.S. would edge past Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s top energy producer.

That alone wouldn’t make the country completely energy independent. Mexico and Canada are likely to remain stable providers of oil to supplement growing U.S. production. And other factors will help, too, ranging from advances in battery technologies and alternative fuels to greater fuel economy in automobiles.

However, the biggest potential game changer for U.S. energy production is natural gas. Just a few years ago, terminals were being built at U.S. ports in anticipation of importing natural gas; today, there’s talk of exporting it.

Technological advances have allowed drillers to go down almost 7,000 feet, smashing through rock formations and drilling horizontally, freeing trapped oil and gas that long had been considered inaccessible.

“Shale gas, the biggest energy innovation since the start of the new century, has turned what was an imminent shortage in the United States into what may be a hundred-year supply,” Daniel Yergin, the world’s most prominent oil historian, wrote in his new book about energy security, “The Quest.”

Promise of shale gas

The promise of shale gas is present in many places that are being developed across the country, but it’s nowhere more visible than in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Bradford County, which is in the aptly named Endless Mountains region.

Communities here sit atop the Marcellus Shale formation, which runs along southern New York state through western Pennsylvania into eastern Ohio and parts of Maryland and West Virginia.

Geologists think the Marcellus Shale formation contains the second-largest natural gas deposits in the world, behind only Iran’s South Pars-North Dome gas field in the Persian Gulf.

If America becomes energy independent, it’ll be in large part thanks to this region. Energy consultancy PFC Energy projects that the U.S. will recapture the flag of top energy producer within the next eight years.

Oil and gas from shale is the biggest new phenomenon.

“To have energy independence, you need to have energy,” said Brian Grove, the director of corporate relations in Towanda for Chesapeake Energy, the most active player right now in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains region. “We’ve grown our production here from zero to hundreds of millions of cubic feet per day.”

The region’s stepped-up natural gas production has led to a number of high-profile announcements of new power plants in the Northeast that won’t need oil or coal to operate.

Forecaster IHS Global Insight projects that the abundant supply will lower natural gas prices, reduce electricity costs by an average of 10% nationwide and boost industrial production by 2.9% by 2017, as manufacturers enjoy cost savings. Natural gas also is likely to displace a lot of heating oil in the Northeast.

Some concerns

Environmental concerns are one potential brake on the shale boom. There are worries about risks to water tables from hydraulic fracturing — the fancy name for shooting pressurized water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground to ease shale gas to the surface. Industry says the process is safe, but the Environmental Protection Agency early this month linked chemicals in the groundwater of a small Wyoming town to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

Locals in Bradford County share many of those concerns, but some consider it a chance they’re willing to take.

“Forty years from now we might look back and say, ‘What the hell did we do?’ Or maybe not. Life’s a gamble,” said Adam Dietz, who was interviewed in the town of Wyalusing as he oversaw operations at TransZ, a company that off-loads sand from railcars onto trucks for use in gas-well drilling.

Detroit Free Press/a

4 Comments on "Shale gas puts some energy independence within reach for U.S."

  1. DC on Sun, 25th Dec 2011 1:02 pm 

    Yes!!! the best way for you amerikans to achives energy independance hahaahha sorry, cant help it, is to use the most dangerous, toxic, energy intensive method you can come up to turn the most marginal sources of ahh…energy left, and once youve done that. Dig it out of the ground with little or no regard to the consequences and set fire to it as fast as you can.

    What a great plan

  2. Bob Owens on Sun, 25th Dec 2011 7:08 pm 

    A bubble is born! This, like the real estate bubble before it, is DOOMED to fail. It shouldn’t take too long; a couple of years and the dream will die. Then we can blow an new bubble: like offshore wind farm franchises!

  3. BillT on Mon, 26th Dec 2011 2:40 am 

    More BS from the Petro industry! Anyone who believes this fairy tail should be sent to work in the coal mines of China. They are fools.

    Did they explain how those ‘lower prices’ for gas will make most of the shale gas ventures losers? Nope.

    Did it mention the many lawsuits that are popping up over polluted wells and other negatives to this process? Nope.

    This is another dream from the ‘everything is ok’ crowd, as the Titanic economy sinks slowly into the cold seas of resource depletion.

  4. WhenTheEagleFlies on Wed, 28th Dec 2011 6:14 pm 

    Shale oil is neither shale nor oil.

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