Shale energy key to U.S. energy independence

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The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently contended that the United States will surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia as a top energy producer by 2020, but some energy analysts aren’t buying the IEA conclusion, noted Gayathri Vaidyanathan, a reporter for Energy & Environment (E&E) news service.

An opinion released this week attacks promises of shale gas and oil “as nothing more than a mirage,” Vaidyanathan reported. Hugh MacMillan, a senior researcher at Food and Water Watch (FWW) claims the United States has only enough shale gas to satisfy demand at current levels for the next 22 years. The FWW contention shoots down some often repeated, even in one way or another by President Obama, that the U.S. has 100 years of natural gas because of the technology for extracting gas from shale.

In contrast to MacMillan and FWW, the IEA said the United States would achieve self-sufficiency by 2035 because of the "rising production of oil, shale gas and bioenergy, and improved fuel efficiency in transport," according to Vaidyanathan and previous E&E reports.

E&E looked at the report’s numbers and determined EIA contends 33.2 billion technically recoverable barrels of shale oil are also available, and the nation uses 18.8 million barrels of oil per day (bpd). At this rate, only seven years' worth of tight oil is available to be tapped, according to the FWW report.

To bring another news service into the mix, Reuters is noted as reporting that self sufficiency for the U.S. by 2035 depends on U.S. oil production peaking by 2020 before falling to 9.2 million bpd by 2035. The IEA is putting a lot of faith in new fuel efficiency standards for vehicles doing a lot in reducing oil use.

The large degree of disagreement about future production illustrates how little is known about oil reserves in the United States. It also shows how assumptions are made about availability in production. A 100-year supply suggests that all areas in the continental U.S. and Alaska would be open for drilling, without restriction. The non-believers see this unrestricted drilling as requiring drilling across the entire U.S. outer continental shelf and other areas, including the Great Lakes.

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