What is a billion dollars? Consider this if you are reflecting:
Because of domestic shale gas drilling, natural gas prices have been low, making gas drilling less profitable than some would like. Chesapeake Energy recently announced (per AP article attached) that it would spend a billion dollars in technologies designed to increase demand for natural gas over the next ten years. Examples of initial investments are to develop a technology that will use natural gas and plant material to make diesel and gasoline. Additional recent press from Chesapeake Energy is attached. Chesapeake's $155M investment in Sundrop Fuels is one leading part of this story. Other themes include using unconventional technology to stimulate US oil production and building out a national supply system (e.g., truckers can drive coast-to-coast on natural gas). In a nutshell, the goal is that the natural gas supply revolution is now met also with a natural gas demand revolution.
The point is made by industry that the US leads the world in unconventional gas/oil extraction technology. Certainly, it is hard to argue with this when one looks at the patent literature. For example, review of US patent literature on hydraulic fracturing technology reveals that most of the inventors are from the US. And most of these are from Texas! In 2011, for example, the US PTO published 197 patent applications as of July 14 which referred to "hydraulic fracturing." Of these, 114 (over half!) feature at least one inventor from Texas. The primary non-US country appears to be Canada, but Canada provides inventors for only 16 of the 197 publications (less than 10% mention a Canadian inventor).
A nanoscale understanding of the shale gas extraction process, including the natural rock and the fluids used for extraction, will be an important element of this commercialization drive. In the July 14 Senate hearing on reauthorization of the NNI, for example, one witness spoke of this point with respect to drilling fluid.
The hope is that (nano)technology will solve far more problems than it creates, and that the law will help in this regard, including the patent system. We will continue to monitor this.