We already know that oil drilled from U.S. shale is leading the rise in global crude output—after all, those U.S. supplies were what helped create the glut that sent oil prices crashing from more than $110 per barrel two years ago to under $50 today—but new projections suggest that U.S. frackers will be key drivers of growth in another hydrocarbon market in the coming years: that of natural gas. The EIA reports:
In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO2016) and Annual Energy Outlook 2016 (AEO2016), natural gas production worldwide is projected to increase from 342 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2015 to 554 Bcf/d by 2040. The largest component of this growth is natural gas production from shale resources, which grows from 42 Bcf/d in 2015 to 168 Bcf/d by 2040. Shale gas is expected to account for 30% of world natural gas production by the end of the forecast period. […]
In the United States, shale gas production accounted for more than half of U.S. natural gas production in 2015 and is projected to more than double from 37 Bcf/d in 2015 to 79 Bcf/d by 2040, which is 70% of total U.S. natural gas production in the AEO2016 Reference case by 2040.
The United States already produces the lion’s share of the world’s shale gas, and those fracked hydrocarbons make up the majority of U.S. natural gas production as well. But Canada, Argentina, and China are all beginning to chase after that shale bandwagon, producing small but significant quantities of fracked gas, and in the coming decades Algeria and, importantly, Mexico will hope to join the club.
Shale producers have so far struggled outside of the United States, running up against any number of hurdles—from poor geology to water scarcity, from opaque government regulations to NIMBYism—but countries and companies will refine their methods and eventually start tapping shale reserves abroad on a commercial scale. The United States will continue to lead the pack, but with Canada and Mexico both ready to join in on this energy boom, North America as a whole is emerging as a new center of global energy supplies.
All of this shale gas is helping to keep natural gas prices down, which in turn is helping to topple Old King Coal from his perch as the world’s cheapest source of power. That’s not just good news for the developing world, it’s also good news for Gaia: natural gas emits far fewer local pollutants and roughly half as much carbon as coal.