Should Government Get Involved in the Natural Gas Boom?
The Brookings Institution found that in 2010, fewer than half the 1,100 wells drilled in theMarcellus Shale Reserve— which covers the states of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and is one of the nation's largest — had access to pipelines.
ICF International, a multi-industry consultancy, determined that 3,300 miles of transmission pipeline will be built in North America between 2009 and 2035.
What controversy there is, says Loris, comes mainly in the Northeast, where old infrastructure must be torn up in order to lay new pipelines, and environmental opposition is high.
As such, he believes it will likely prove far easier to simply lay new pipelines in the less dense areas of the U.S., such as the West.
New pipelines also can have an environmental benefit because gas that can’t be captured on site is often “flared,” a process that is both wasteful and potentially toxic.
The natural gas boom also has a powerful political component.
For decades, leaders in both government and industry have bemoaned America's dependence on imported crude oil and how it undercuts national security.
Though more than a few proponents of natural gas have called it a means to energy independence, experts interviewed for this story say gas actually has a minor role in the national security debate.
The Natural Resources Defense Council's Lashof sees natural gas as a potential stabilizing force, a hedge against oil. “It is produced domestically, versus oil, and oil distorts our foreign policy,” he says.
Brookings' Ebinger sees U.S. domestic natural gas, in the form of transportable liquefied natural gas, as a potential alternative to what he considers the cartel-like pricing dictated by Russia’s Gazprom, which dominates Europe’s gas market. Such export capacity would make it easier to attract and sustain allies.
Though energy has yet to emerge as a major issue in the 2012 presidential race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Obama has already staked outa pro-gas positionwith the requisite nod to the economy.
Analysts say this has two benefits. One is that natural gas is produced in many swing states, including Pennsylvania. Another is that his support for the fuel gives him a counter-argument to those who say he is anti-growth and anti-business, having blocked the Keystone oil pipeline in January.
The Obama administration recently approved the drilling of 3,676 natural gas wells in Utah; and requests by environmentalists to ban diesel in fracking have fallen on deaf ears. As importantly, the president has also convened a working group to include both industry execs and government regulatory agencies to coordinate domestic natural gas production.
At the same time, it’s hard to imagine an all-out push from the White House, as the Obama administration remains torn behind efforts to endorse natural gas, still a fossil fuel, and support for sustainable, renewable alternative fuels, say experts.
Not to mention the administration might still feel the burn from its controversial financial support of the solar firm Solyndra, which went bankrupt.
Romney, though generally very supportive of the traditional energy industry, has yet to fully articulate a policy. His campaign website simply says he wants to "prevent over-regulation of shale gas development and extraction."
Ebinger says still more can and should be done at the presidential level, by both candidates, to raise awareness about natural gas.
“If I were a presidential candidate I would say to the American people this resource is big enough where it could lead to a revitalization of American industry.”