Matt Migliore
Matt Migliore

In late December, the U.S. EPA issued an update on its ongoing national study to determine potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. The update didn’t offer any specifics on early results of the study, but the EPA did note that it believes natural gas has a central role to play in the energy future of the U.S., as well as in providing extensive economic, energy security, and environmental benefits.

The update seems to be designed to set the U.S. shale gas industry at ease, downplaying the threat of a regulatory hammer dropping when the study’s final results are published in 2014. I think this is a good thing, as shale gas offers much-needed optimism to the U.S. economy and U.S. energy mix at a time when signs of promise are scarce. On the other hand, with regulators and industry seemingly falling in line to support shale gas expansion, my hope is that we’ve learned some lessons from promises run amok in our not-so-distant past.

According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States has recoverable natural gas resources in excess of 2,200 trillion cubic feet, enough to meet domestic needs for more than 90 years. This abundant supply of natural gas has led to lower energy prices for U.S. households and businesses, which has helped to slowly revive the U.S. economy after years of recession and breathe new life into the U.S. manufacturing sector.

Nevertheless, regulators and industry need to be careful not to rationalize away potential negative impacts. Shale gas exploration, at a minimum, is an invasive process that brings noise, excess road traffic, and unsightly drilling infrastructure and related equipment to what, in many cases, were once remote and tranquil locations.

When you look at a map showing shale basins in the United States, you see they cover a significant amount of territory. While current exploration efforts are limited to select areas within those basins, the pressure to expand shale plays figures to increase as the potential for revenue grows. As this push and pull inevitably intensifies, my hope is that shale gas doesn’t become the equivalent of the U.S. housing boom and its subsequent crash, whereby the pursuit of short-term gains blinds regulators and the private sector to the long-term dangers of an ill-conceived and narrow-minded strategy. All Americans have a vested interest in managing and accessing natural gas resources in a way that does position natural gas as a key long-term energy resource and does not compromise the environment.

Heading into 2013, my focus is on lessons learned from recent “booms” in our history that went bust in a big way. (Need I mention the dot-com boom/bust as well?) So as we now hear the term “Shale Gas Boom” bandied about, I wonder if we’ve learned the lessons needed to manage our booms in a way that will enable the U.S. natural gas industry to thrive in a sustainable and long-term fashion.

— Matt Migliore, Executive Director of Content