FRACKING has transformed prospects for the United States’ energy industry in the past decade, as the natural gas sector has collaborated with the government in improving drilling and extraction methods.
Work on industrial-scale shale gas production across the Atlantic began in the 1970s. Before then, it was thought to be unviable. But faced over 30 years ago with declining production potential from conventional gas deposits in America, the government ploughed money into research and development.
Now, estimated reserves of natural gas in the US are believed by some experts to be well over a third higher than they were in 2006.
The economic success of fracking has also spurred the rapid growth of shale gas in Canada and raised interest as far afield as Asia and Australia.
Some energy analysts believe there may be up to a 100-year supply of natural gas in the US. In its Annual Energy Outlook last year, the US Energy Information Administration more than doubled its estimate of recoverable shale gas reserves to 827 trillion cubic feet, by including data from drilling results in new shale fields.
The availability of such large shale gas reserves has also fuelled gas industry calls for more natural gas-fired power plants to be built as lower-carbon emission replacements for “dirty” coal plants, and as back-up power sources for solar and wind energy.