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As shale deposits multiply, energy self-sufficiency becomes a reality

Benny Peiser is an Israeli-born, British-based social anthropologist who distributes daily news reports about climate change and related subjects – for example, fossil fuels – in a rather helter-skelter fashion to subscribers around the world. It's an entertaining and instructive service. Consider these stories, all reported on a single January day:

Inter Press Service, an international news agency, reports that many countries traditionally dependent on imported oil and gas could become self-sufficient "in the near future." The agency bases its report on U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that indicate the global supply of shale gas might be several times more abundant on a planetary basis than the proven reserves of conventional gas. The EIA's list of import-dependent countries that can expect rapid transition to self-sufficiency also includes South Africa, Australia, Poland, France, Chile, Sweden, Paraguay, Pakistan and India. The IPS articles suggests several of these countries could become gas exporters.

MIT News, a journal of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reports on a new MIT study that confirms shale gas will make "a big difference" in energy prices in coming decades. Without shale gas, oil and gas prices would rise fivefold by 2050; with shale gas, they would only double. The study concludes that shale gas would moderate energy prices, provide "flexibility" in cutting carbon emissions, stimulate the U.S. economy – and "suppresses the development of renewable [energies]" The EIA, incidentally, says $4 (U.S.) worth of natural gas now buys as much energy as $25 worth of oil. (The MIT study concludes that the environmental risks in shale gas extraction have been "overstated.")

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In a separate MIT News report, John Deutch, MIT energy expert and chair of a U.S. Department of Energy panel studying the shale industry, says shale gas has created 750,000 jobs with many more to come – especially in Pennsylvania and Ohio, two states that will play a significant role in the 2012 president election. "Over the last couple of years," Prof. Deutch said, "I've realized that what's happening with unconventional natural gas [shale]is the biggest energy story … in the 40-plus years that I've watched energy development in this country."

According to the Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily newspaper, Poland's state-controlled gas company expects to make its first deliveries of domestic shale gas in the second half of 2012. Up to 3,500 customers will be supplied with gas at a lower price than Poland now pays for the gas it imports from Russia. Poland regards shale gas production as a milestone in its quest for energy self-sufficiency.

In a buoyant forecast for the U.S. economy in 2012, the manager of the $100-billion Ignis American Growth Fund (a unit of London-based Ignis Asset Management) says the U.S. stands on the verge of energy self-sufficiency. "The Gulf of Mexico is expected to produce almost three times as much oil by the end of the decade," fund manager Terry Ewing wrote, "and North Dakota is experiencing a staggering oil and gas boom that would qualify it as a member of OPEC." U.S. imports of oil could drop from nine million barrels a day to two million within six or seven years, he said.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Total SA, France's biggest oil and gas company, will pay $2.3-billion for a 25-per-cent stake in Chesapeake Energy's shale deposit in Ohio; and China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (Sinopec), China's largest (and state-owned) energy company, will invest $2.2-billion for an interest in five oil and natural gas fields under development by Devon Energy. The report says U.S., European, Chinese and Indian energy companies are "scrambling" to gain access to vast U.S. shale gas deposits.

This was a good day's work. Good days of this kind are occurring more and more often. In the first two weeks of January, huge fossil fuel discoveries have been confirmed around the world – including in Brazil, India and Cyprus (where Houston-based Noble Energy confirmed a fifth large gas discovery). Cyprus declared that these finds would, by themselves, "make a substantial contribution to energy security in the EU." With every good day's work, the world moves a little closer to energy independence – for almost everyone.

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About the Author
Neil Reynolds

Neil Reynolds is an Ottawa writer whose columns on national economic issues appear in Wednesday's and Friday's Globe and Mail. He is the former editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Sun and the Ottawa Citizen. More

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