The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Hard Rock Gas

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted June 4, 2009

Have you ever heard of shale gas? It's the naturally occurring, clean-burning gas that is found in shale rock formations, and it's becoming increasing important as an energy resource in the United States. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy says there is enough so-called unconventional gas (shale gas, tight sands and coalbed methane) in the United States to supply our energy needs for the next 90 years. Other estimates extend this supply to 116 years.


Today, a House subcommittee is holding a fact-finding hearing on shale gas development. Because this form of gas is locked in layers of hard shale, it's more difficult to produce than gas that easily flows through underground sand formations. To encourage shale gas to move toward the well, a process called hydraulic fracturing is required to create tiny fissures in the rock. Fluid is pumped down the wellbore under enough pressure to make the shale crack and a proppant--usually sand-- is left behind to prop the cracks open, allowing the gas to flow up the wellbore. To see how hydraulic fracturing works, watch this video:

Hydraulic fracturing has been used in nearly 1 million wells in the United States during the past 50 years. It is a tried-and-true technology that helps increase domestic supplies of natural gas for homes, businesses, industries and as a feedstock for thousands of consumer items. Hydraulic fracturing has also been found to have little or no impact on drinking water supplies or increased risk to human health. Several organizations have conducted studies on hydraulic fracturing, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which concluded there were "no confirmed cases linked to fracturing fluid infection into coalbed methane wells or subsequent underground of fracturing fluids."

Yet in recent weeks, some consideration has been given to regulating hydraulic fracturing under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, an action that could raise the cost of domestic natural gas production and reduce natural gas supplies. As I wrote in a recent post, the Ground Water Protection Council conducted a study and reported on May 28 that the language in state oil and gas field regulations is adequate for regulating hydraulic fracturing.

Several oil and natural gas trade associations have submitted a statement to the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, explaining the importance of shale gas and the safety of hydraulic fracturing as documented in numerous studies.