The recent and significant discoveries of abundant unconventional natural gas resources across the United States has sparked a debate about what role natural gas will play in America’s future energy portfolio. The United States Energy Information Agency estimates that while shale gas accounted for 14 percent of U.S. Natural Gas production in 2009, it is expected to reach 45 percent by 2035. The U.S. currently has 2,552 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas resources for which shale gas represents 827 tcf (approximately 33%) of this estimate. In its 2011 Energy Outlook, the U.S. EIA nearly doubled the amount of estimated shale gas reserves, given that advances in technology (horizontal drilling and fracking advances) have made once unrecoverable reserves economical.
At the same time these shale reserves are being discovered, the price of natural gas has continued a steady decrease to its current price, which is hovering around $4.00 per thousand cubic feet. While a low price may be good for consumers, including potentially attracting more electric utilities shifting to gas generation, it may prove to be too low to make widespread shale extraction economical or spur the development of advanced biofuels like gas-to-liquids. With so many variables at play, including the price of oil as impacted by world events, and legislative and regulatory pressure (both fracking-specific and climate change measures), the question of natural gas’s future role is a difficult one to answer.
For an optimistic outlook (not only in this country, but worldwide), see commentary by Jack Barnes: "Shale Gas Revolution Is Changing the Politics of Energy." For an opposite viewpoint, see this blog post "Don't Count on Natural Gas to Solve US Energy Problems," and for a more middle of the road take see this New York Times article by Beth Gardiner "Is Natural Gas Good, Or Just Less Bad?"