Shale Gas Truths
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  • Posted Sept 5, 2013

Shale Gas Truths

Over the past few years, we've heard a lot of media coverage about the amazing potential of natural gas supply from shale gas. Some of the coverage purports that the US has over a 100-year supply of natural gas. This has certainly been an uplifting message that Americans have long been seeking in the wake of a prolonged war, a long drawn out recession and rising oil prices.

But as the dust settles on the hype around shale gas, a few geologists and independent observers are starting to questions these claims. In this post, we will present some of the points raised against these claims and let you decide for yourself.

What is Shale Gas?

Shale is a sedimentary rock formation with characteristically small pores that trap natural gas. Geologists have long known about the relative abundance of shale rock across the US and the presence of trapped natural gas within shale, but until recently, it has been cost-prohibitive to extract it. Recent advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have been the primary drivers in making natural gas extraction economically feasible.

Environmental Impact of Shale Gas

Its been long purported that shale gas is environmentally friendlier than oil and coal. However a study performed by a Cornell University ecologist; Robert Howarth; warns that we should be more concerned about methane leaking into the atmosphere during hydraulic fracturing.

Natural gas is mostly composed of methane which can be much more environmentally damaging than CO2. Howarth estimates that as much as 8% of the methane in shale gas leaks into the air during the lifetime of hydraulic shale gas well - up to twice what escapes from conventional gas production.

Howarth states that "The take-home message of our study is that if you do an integration of 20 years following the development of the gas, shale gas is worse than conventional gas and is, in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil. We are not advocating for more coal or oil, but rather to move to a truly green, renewable future as quickly as possible. We need to look at the true environmental consequences of shale gas."

100-year Abundant Supply of Cheap Gas

The Shale and Nautral Gas industry has tried to publicize this claim every chance they get. However geologist Arthur Berman in his 2012 blog disagrees with this claim and states that.

"We have been told more recently that the U.S. has enough natural gas to last for 100 years. We have been presented with an improbable business model that has no barriers to entry except access to capital, that provides a source of cheap and abundant gas, and that somehow also allows for great profit. Despite three decades of experience with tight sandstone and coal-bed methane production that yielded low-margin returns and less supply than originally advertised, we are expected to believe that poorer-quality shale reservoirs will somehow provide superior returns and make the U.S. energy independent"

Shale Truth Video series

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network recently conducted a series of interviews with Arthur Berman. In these video interviews, he discusses some of the industry claims on the supply and availability of shale gas and the real impacts of the shale gas industry. These videos are educational and eye-opening - we recommend that you take the time to watch them.


Industry claims about shale gas as the clean and abundant supply of cheap energy may be over-blown. While shale gas will certainly continue to contribute and complement conventional natural gas production, it seems unlikely that it will be able to fully address our future energy demands.

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