The United States (U.S.) is the second largest consumer of energy worldwide, with petroleum serving as the primary energy source. In recent years, however, there has been a growth in the use of natural gas. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, natural gas production increased more than six times between 2007 and 2012. Shale gas, a widespread source of energy contained in underground rock formations, makes up 35% of total natural gas production in the U.S.
Natural gas is also gaining prominence in the energy industries of other countries, indicating a coming shift in the global energy market. China has the largest known shale gas reserves in the world, though current production is minimal. As technical expertise in drilling practices and a stronger regulatory framework develop, China could become a leader in natural gas production in future decades.
Russia is a prominent producer and exporter of natural gas, supplying around 80% of the total European market. Increased production in the U.S. is expected to rival Russia’s dominance. Recent discoveries of gas reserves in Eastern Europe have the potential to become an important source for the European market, and could begin to either replace or supplement the Russian supply.
The growth of the natural gas industry in the U.S. suggests a number of important economic and political developments. The growing domestic industry would provide jobs for the American workforce and reduce dependence on foreign oil and unstable markets. The U.S. is quickly moving to become the largest producer and exporter of natural gas, and could potentially dominate the global energy industry in the future. This new role could change the nature of American political and military activity in the Middle East insofar as it relates to energy, and push the U.S. to the forefront of international negotiations regarding climate change.
However, the “shale boom” has sparked much debate here in Western Pennsylvania, and across the U.S., due to possibility of environmental harm from the extraction process. Shale gas is characterized as an “unconventional” gas, and is extracted from a deep layer of sedimentary rock. Horizontal drilling is a common extraction method, and the development of hydraulic fracturing technology (“fracking”) has made production more fruitful. This process uses water, chemicals, and sand at high pressures to create fractures in the rock, which allows the gas to escape and be collected. Nevertheless, fracking poses a number of potential environmental and health concerns in areas of high production, including the contamination of groundwater with chemicals, threats to air quality, and mismanagement of waste. Despite these concerns, experts argue the growth of the natural gas industry will ensure future U.S. energy security as it diversifies the different sources of energy at our disposal.
If you are interested in the energy debate and would like to learn more, the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh will be hosting Jack Gerard, President and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute for lunch on January 22, 2014. Mr. Gerard will discuss the importance of U.S. energy security in the future of American political strength and legitimacy. Visit our website, for more information and to register.
By: Kate Fisch, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern