Natural gas: The fracking fallacy : Nature News & Comment

The United States is banking on decades of abundant natural gas to power its economic resurgence. That may be wishful thinking.

Mason Inman

03 December 2014

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Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Alamy

A rig drills for natural gas using hydraulic-fracturing methods in a Pennsylvania shale formation.

When US President Barack Obama talks about the future, he foresees a thriving US economy fuelled to a large degree by vast amounts of natural gas pouring from domestic wells. “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” he declared in his 2012 State of the Union address.

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Obama’s statement reflects an optimism that has permeated the United States. It is all thanks to fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — which has made it possible to coax natural gas at a relatively low price out of the fine-grained rock known as shale. Around the country, terms such as ‘shale revolution’ and ‘energy abundance’ echo through corporate boardrooms.

Companies are betting big on forecasts of cheap, plentiful natural gas. Over the next 20 years, US industry and electricity producers are expected to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in new plants that rely on natural gas. And billions more dollars are pouring into the construction of export facilities that will enable the United States to ship liquefied natural gas to Europe, Asia and South America.

All of those investments are based on the expectation that US gas production will climb for decades, in line with the official forecasts by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). As agency director Adam Sieminski put it last year: “For natural gas, the EIA has no doubt at all that production can continue to grow all the way out to 2040.”

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