By Russell R. Chianelli, The University of Texas at El Paso, MRTI
In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled “Stepping on the Gas,” Daniel Yergin, noted for his book The Prize, which covers the rise of the major oil companies, describes how gas from shale rock can lead the United States out of dependence on foreign oil imports.1 In this article, he discusses how independent energy producers in the Houston, Texas, area have tapped a resource called the Barnett Shale reserve located around Dallas/Forth Worth, Texas. This is now producing massive amounts of natural gas using techniques developed over the past 30 years to open reservoir rocks. Specifically, a technique called fracking expands rock fractures, releasing gas. Fracking has changed the U.S. energy equation. As part of the so-called Unconventional Natural-Gas Revolution, the technique has turned a natural gas shortage into a surplus, resulting in lowering of the price of natural gas. It is now estimated that the United States has a resource base of natural gas across the country of 2,500 trillion cubic feet (see Reference 2 for worldwide production). This makes it probable that the United States will become a net exporter of natural gas.
Fracking has critics who speak about threats to groundwater and the handling of water recovered from the operation. However, the industry states that they have a long, untarnished safety record. In an accompanying article titled “The Road to Clean Energy?” environmentalist Mark Brownstein discusses the risks and appeals to the industry to allay such fears. Besides the obvious direct uses of natural gas for energy applications, the abundance of natural gas also offers opportunities to the catalytic materials community to convert it to useful transportation liquids. Future blog entries will discuss this in more detail.