Realizing the Potential of U.S. Unconventional Natural Gas

In-depth analysis of the state of play of natural gas in the United States

The ability to access  and economically develop the vast amounts of the U.S. unconventional natural gas resources has fundamentally altered our national view on energy. Since 2008, when the economic viability of shale gas resources became widely recognized, policymakers and industry leaders have worked to better understand the size of this resource, the risks and opportunities associated with its production, transport and use, and the potential strategic implications of the United States’ new energy reality. 

In early 2011, the CSIS Energy and National Security Program undertook an effort to capture the current state of play with respect to resource development, operational practices, risk identification and mitigation, impact assessments, and to identify strategies that allow this valuable resource to be prudently developed. Over the course of the past year, we worked with a wide array of regulators, policymakers, environmental, industry and financial groups, academics and community stakeholders.

The key messages below  are a the result of the year-long exploration of the current policy, commercial, technological, environmental, and societal landscape related to realizing the potential of the U.S. unconventional gas development:

  • The resource base is enormous and readily available but the industry and regulators are in the early stages of learning how to optimize the value of the resource. 
  • The availability of relatively affordable natural gas can create jobs, spur economic growth, and support important manufacturing sectors. 
  • Several key domestic energy and environmental policies will drive greater U.S. domestic gas consumption and, along with natural gas exports, can provide an important stabilizing element for gas development. 
  • Development risks are manageable today but understanding risks and evolving cost-effective risk management approaches is a long term, continuous process.
  • Technology innovation is key to production, risk management, and demand. 
  • Public acceptance of unconventional gas development is a critical issue and the ability to manage risks must be demonstrated.