This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.
people think the search for cleaner energy leads only to renewable resources
like sun, wind and water. But it also leads to a fossil fuel. Natural gas is
considered the cleanest of the fossil fuels, the fuels created by plant and
animal remains over millions of years.
Burning it releases fewer
pollutants than oil or coal. The gas is mainly methane. It produces half the
carbon dioxide of other fossil fuels. So it may help cut the production of
carbon gases linked to climate change.
Russia is first in what are called
"proved reserves" of natural gas. The United States is sixth. Over
the years, big oil and gas companies recovered much of the easily reached supplies
of gas in America. They drilled straight down into formations where gas collects.
As these supplies were used up, big drillers looked for similar formations in
now the industry is taking a new look. Companies are developing gas supplies trapped
in shale rock two to three thousand meters underground. They drill down to the
shale, then go sideways and inject high-pressure water, sand or other material
into the rock.
This causes the rock to break, or fracture, releasing
the gas. Huge fields of gas shale are believed to lie under the Appalachian
Mountains, Michigan and the south-central states.
shale exploration is being done mainly by small to medium sized companies.
Potter is a program director in the Bureau of Economic Geology at the
University of Texas at Austin.
ERIC POTTER: "The types of opportunities that are
left for natural gas exploration in the U.S. have changed. So it's a different
class of resource -- not as easy to develop, and not even recognized as
something worth pursuing, say, twenty years ago."
He says more than half
the gas in the United States is now coming from these new reserves.
hydraulic fracturing can also produce debate and anger over the risk of groundwater
pollution. This method of drilling is not federally supervised under the Safe
Drinking Water Act. Some in Congress want to end that exemption from the law.
Natural gas provides Americans
with about one-fourth of their energy. And, unlike oil, most of it is produced
in America. Gas producers invested heavily in reaching new supplies when prices
were high. But prices are down sharply now because the recession cut demand for
energy. So energy expert Eric Potter says it is too early to know how the new gas
shale reserves will affect the market.
And that's the VOA
Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.