The United States has managed to revitalize its manufacturing industry, due in no small part to the practice of extracting shale gas trapped beneath the continent. Shale gas is a controversial issue in the US and around the world, but does it have the potential to bring industry sectors back from the brink?
What is shale gas?
Shale gas is a natural gas that is held locked within shale rock formations. Shale rock formations are sedimentary rocks with fine grains, and they can hold rich sources of petroleum, as well as natural gas. Before the twenty-first century, shale gas was largely inaccessible, simply because the equipment and apparatus needed to reach it were too expensive to use. The cost has now decreased, due to the advent of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. At the turn of the century, the amount of shale gas being recovered was less than 2%. Move forward twelve years to 2012, and that figure rose to 37%.
Energy experts, such as Daniel Yergin, are calling shale gas a game-changer in the energy market thanks to the way it has transformed the North American energy sector. Shale gas development may result in the US no longer being dependent upon energy sourced from foreign suppliers. It may also mean that the US will produce more gas than it can consume, leading to the country becoming an exporter and provider of gas, opening up another revenue stream. However, shale gas is not the only energy alternative, according to Yergin and other experts. There is also deep-water production, where oil is drilled for in offshore wells in deep and shallow waters, as well as oil recovered from sand.
What does this mean for heavy industry? As previously mentioned, the US manufacturing industry has enjoyed resurgence partially due to shale gas. With economically recoverable fossil fuels due to run out within ten years, shale gas presents the manufacturing and heavy industries with an energy alternative. Essentially, they are free to carry on their business, secure in the knowledge that they will not have to rely solely on fossil fuels, because shale gas provides them with another source of energy. In addition, as technology improves, it is highly likely that the cost of shale gas will decrease, leading to lower engineering and manufacturing costs in the long term. It also seems that there is plenty of time to make use of shale gas, for experts estimate that there is enough natural gas beneath the North American continent to last for the next 110 years. Shale gas has already resulted in lowered costs of energy for domestic use across the US.
As shale gas makes manufacturing and heavy industry more viable, there is an increased need for labor. Therefore, an increase in the use of shale gas in these industries will result in the creation of jobs, perhaps as many as three million, yet another factor in favor of shale gas and which will give the US a new globally competitive edge.