U.S. Shale: Dazzling Numbers, But Also Divisions

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jbeatty/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jbeatty/

Two bills working their way through state legislatures more than 2,000 miles apart show that, although it’s the envy of much of the world, the U.S. shale industry is a house divided.

Production from shale natural gas deposits in the United States is expected to outpace conventional types of natural gas through at least 2040. In an annual energy review published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), shale gas production is actually expected to accelerate for the next twenty-five years, where most other resources show a decline.

But the picture looks less clear when you look at the situation state-by-state.

Illinois state lawmaker John Bradley doesn’t want to wait for his state to finish drafting new rules governing its hydraulic fracturing operations. He’s introduced a bill to eliminate the rule-making portion of a law passed a year to regulate fracking. The state’s department of natural resources has until November to finish drawing up the rules but lawmakers like Bradley and oil and gas industry officials believe the delay is bad for business.

Illinois ranks twenty-seventh in the nation in natural gas production, just five states from the bottom in terms of measured output. While it has the largest crude oil refining capacity in the region, it has few wells and what the EIA describes as “minimal production” of natural gas.

Lawmakers like Bradley think more legislative delays will push the state even further down the natural gas production rankings.

Two thousand miles away in California, it’s a completely different story. Shale oil may be coming out of the ground fast enough to make OPEC nervous, but State Senator Holly Mitchell thinks it’s time to apply the brakes.

She introduced a bill to do so after an EIA report dramatically lowered the estimate of how much recoverable oil there is in the Monterey shale play — from 13 billion barrels to just 600 million barrels.

But that’s still more than some states. Despite Mitchell’s contention there’s “no ocean of black gold” in California, the EIA ranks the state third in the nation in terms of overall crude oil production.

So in Illinois, which has few resources, there are lawmakers who want to fast-track the shale industry development.

Meanwhile, in California, even with the lowered EIA estimate, the industry is pumping along at a rate just behind behemoths Texas and North Dakota, but policymakers there say it’s time to slow things down.

And overseas, the United States is the envy of an international community scratching its head on all matters related to energy security. Though some Eastern European countries are swimming in shale oil and gas, it’s been difficult so far for them to replicate the U.S. success story. And that’s the prevailing opinion from North Dakota, a state at the heart of the U.S. narrative.

It’s easy to be dazzled by the pure numbers of the U.S. shale story. But on the margins, divisions reveal themselves. And the protests and acts of civil disobedience against the industry are another story all together.

Originally written for OilPrice.com, a website that focuses on news and analysis on topics of alternative energy, geopolitics, and oil and gas. OilPrice.com is written for an educated audience that includes investors, fund managers, resource bankers, traders, and energy market professionals around the world.

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