Advances in drilling and recovery technologies for shale gas have reshaped our assumptions about America’s natural gas resources and our future energy options. Expanded development of shale gas and its associated liquids offer the potential for turning energy scarcity into plenty, fostering a renaissance in our petrochemical and manufacturing sectors, and offering a cleaner option for power generation.
If shale gas production realizes its potential of providing reliable supplies of natural gas for decades at affordable prices, it will lower utility bills for households and, by driving down feedstock and production costs, boost American manufacturing. In addition, greater use of natural gas in electricity generation is already providing environmental and climate benefits as a cleaner, market-friendly substitute for coal and as a complement to intermittent renewable resources like wind and solar.
In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama gave his strongest endorsement yet to shale gas. “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy,” he said, adding that his administration “will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”
But as the president’s remarks suggest, safety, and sustainability are key. For as gas production rises, so too does controversy over the environmental impact of shale gas development. Amid claims and counterclaims about its dangers from environmentalists and gas producers, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has be-come a household word. The public is being bombarded with negative images of shale production, from media reports of an earthquake in Ohio attributed to hydraulic fracturing, to flaming water faucets in the movie Gasland.
In response to real and imagined dangers, there is growing political pressure to regulate production at both the state and federal levels. Some states, including New York, Maryland, and New Jersey, already have limited shale development. Environmental concerns also have inspired proposed legislation in Congress and prompted federal agencies to take tentative steps toward new regulations.