US Shales: Whether its a Revolution of Evolution, Shale Gas Delivers
Shale gas enhancing energy supply, security
Whether you call it revolution or evolution, one thing is clear: Shale natural gas is producing jobs and economic benefits across the nation.
This week, shale gas was the focus of a major conference in Houston involving industry representatives, government officials and academics who gathered to discuss the technologies and future of this increasingly important source of energy.
For most of the nation, the contributions of shale gas may seem like a revolution. Shale gas has created thousands of new jobs, meant millions of dollars in new government revenues and enhanced energy security for America.
Of course, those of us who work in and around the energy industry understand that shale gas has been more of an evolution than a revolution.
The technologies used to develop these natural gas supplies aren't new. Our industry began directional drilling in the 1920s, leading to substantial use of horizontal drilling in recent decades. And we have used the process of hydraulic fracturing since the 1940s. In that time, the industry has safely drilled more than a million wells.
The transformative impact of shale gas is challenging us all to think in new ways.
Not long ago many worried about a natural gas supply shortage in the U.S. But as President Obama recently stated, a "century's worth … [lies] in the shale beneath our feet." A decade ago gas from shale accounted for less than 2 percent of U.S. natural gas production. Today it is nearly 30 percent and growing.
As our nation considers this potential, we are reminded of the importance of reliable, affordable energy to our economy - especially during challenging economic times. Affordable supplies of natural gas - driven by the increase in shale production - have helped reinvigorate the domestic petrochemical industry, which relies on gas as a feedstock to make plastics and the other building blocks of modern manufacturing. These supplies are strengthening America's steel industry, which is building new mills and hiring workers to support shale gas drilling. And areas where production of shale oil or natural gas is occurring are experiencing economic growth, job creation, and increased tax revenue.
For instance, in North Dakota, unconventional oil and gas production in the Bakken Shale has provided enormous economic benefits, with close to $5 billion in direct economic activity in 2009. In Texas, a study of the Barnett Shale formation near Fort Worth estimates it is now responsible for $11 billion in annual economic output and more than 100,000 jobs for the North Texas region. And in Pennsylvania, state labor statistics show 214,000 Marcellus Shale-related jobs at the beginning of 2011. Penn State researchers meanwhile calculate that Marcellus drilling could add nearly $10 billion in value to the Pennsylvania economy this year.
We also must not forget that hydraulic fracturing helps our nation reach our shared goals for responsible environmental stewardship. Natural gas produces about 50 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal when used to produce electricity for consumers and businesses, and significantly reduces other emissions such as mercury, sulfur and nitrogen oxide. It also uses a small fraction of the water used in coal, nuclear and solar power generation processes to produce a barrel of oil equivalent energy.
To ensure economic and environmental benefits continue, the people of the natural gas industry understand that we must remain firm in our commitment to properly manage the risks involved in drilling operations. That means meeting the highest standards of well design and well integrity. It means training our personnel and contractors to ensure adherence to established operating procedures. It means safely and efficiently handling the water and additives used to fracture wells. And it means working with state regulators to ensure protection of water and air quality.
The United States' shale gas resources are an extraordinary energy endowment for our country, and our industry knows how to produce these resources safely and responsibly. We must keep these facts in mind as the public and policymakers discuss energy policies - and what increased access and technology mean for the energy industry.
With a commitment to operations integrity, wise development of our shale gas can provide new supplies of affordable, reliable energy in a safe, secure and environmentally responsible manner. And the rise of this resource comes at a time when our country - and the world - clearly needs the economic and environmental benefits that natural gas stands ready to deliver.
Mark W. Albers is a senior vice president at Exxon Mobil Corporation.
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