The process of hydraulic fracturing is at the forefront of an effort in the United States to enable natural gas resources trapped beneath shale rock to replace imported oil as a fuel source. According to a report by the Voice of America, fracturing, which involves the use of high-pressure water, chemicals and sand to make fissures in rock where gas is trapped deep below the earth”s surface, is seen by many industry insiders as a possible game-changer in the energy sector.

In its report, the Voice of America says University of Houston chemical engineer Michael Economides believes natural gas is well positioned to become the premier fuel of the world economy in the not-too-distant future. In fact, Economides says, according to International Energy Administration estimates, through the use of hydraulic fracturing, the world may have as much as 300 years worth of natural gas at current levels of usage. Further, he says there may be even more in the form of frozen gas on the ocean floor, called natural gas hydrates. If the gas hydrates can be extracted in a commercially viable way, Economides believes the world could have as much as a thousand years worth of the fuel.

However, there are environmental concerns about the possibility of water contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a study to determine standards for the proper disposal of water employed during the hydraulic fracturing process. Ultimately, if the environmental concerns can be fully addressed, the Voice of America reports that some experts believe natural gas could become a much cheaper and a much more reliable near-term alternative to the various renewable energies like wind and solar.

To read the full Voice of America report on this story, click here.