Shale Goes Global


"House and Senate consider Frac Act bill to regulate fracking nationally."

Shale drilling rigThe U.S. has rocked the once-sleepy natural gas market. Since the 1950s, American energy companies have drilled into massive formations of shale rock to get at the natural gas trapped beneath them, but historically these ventures required large cash investments to access a relatively unpopular fuel. In the last few years, however, shale gas has suddenly become much more profitable, thanks to three factors:
  1. The discovery of large reserves of this low-emissions fuel;
  2. tweaks to the hydraulic fracturing; and
  3. drilling improvements enabling one well to access a reserve in multiple directions.
The sudden surge in natural gas supply has driven prices down around the world and sparked countries throughout Asia and Europe to develop their own shale gas reserves.

In a world hungry for cheap, low-carbon fuel, the shale-drilling expertise of independent companies has become a hot commodity. But as possible regulations loom in the U.S., the American companies that pioneered the shale industry are exporting their controversial drilling techniques abroad.

Fracking makes a great villain—Halliburton has been involved in its development and was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act as part of a 2005 energy bill, thanks to Dick Cheney. But, according to a recent report, the environmental problems stem more from poorly designed wells, drilling techniques and wastewater management than fracking itself. Either way, Congress has begun discussing stiffer regulations.

Fracking is currently regulated by the states. However, the House and Senate are considering twin bills known collectively as the Frac Act, which would regulate fracking nationally but have little chance of passing until the EPA completes its study of fracking, likely sometime in 2012.

As regulation discussions slow the shale gas rush stateside, American companies are expanding their drilling to other countries, where interest is high, money is available and environmental regulations haven't caught up yet.

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