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Today shale gas accounts for about 25 percent of our natural gas production. And experts believe this abundant supply will mean lower energy costs for millions of families; fewer greenhouse gas emissions; and more American jobs. | Photo courtesy of the EIA.

Today shale gas accounts for about 25 percent of our natural gas production. And experts believe this abundant supply will mean lower energy costs for millions of families; fewer greenhouse gas emissions; and more American jobs. | Photo courtesy of the EIA.

The U.S. sits on top of one of the largest reserves of natural gas in the world. A lot of that gas is shale gas -- which was once thought to be unreachable and too expensive to recover. But thanks in part to ground floor Energy Department research and development (R&D) investments, advances in technology opened up that vast resource. Today shale gas accounts for about 25 percent of our natural gas production. The Government Accountability Office says shale gas could provide enough natural gas to supply the nation for as much as 100 years. And experts believe this abundant supply will mean lower energy costs for millions of families; fewer greenhouse gas emissions; and more American jobs. 

This is promising news. At the same time, people have questions that need to be answered. How does the process for producing shale gas -- known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” -- affect our drinking water? Does “fracking” cause earthquakes? Can we safely and sustainably develop this huge resource?

These are important questions, and the Energy Department is taking a lead role in addressing them in two important ways. For one thing, we’re working with other Federal agencies, like the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency -- as well experts from universities, industry, the environmental community and others -- to come up with ways to develop our natural gas resources, like shale gas, safely and responsibly.

We’re also targeting research dollars to develop technologies and processes that will help make natural gas production as safe and sustainable as possible, and these projects are a perfect example. By focusing the latest technology and research methods on reducing the environmental impacts of natural gas development, these projects will help ensure the safe and responsible development of natural gas from unconventional sources like shale.  

Specifically, the projects administered by the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) will concentrate on improving water handling and treating methods at drilling sites; enhancing the characterization of shale formations; and improving our understanding of the “fracking” process. They range from testing innovative technologies for cleaning the wastewater from “fracking,” to helping us better understand the relationship between underground water disposal and small tremors or earthquakes. The results of this research will go a long way toward addressing the technical challenges -- and reducing the environmental footprint -- of shale gas production.

The president’s all-of-the-above energy strategy means that we need to responsibly use all our energy resources -- solar, wind, renewables, clean coal, oil and natural gas. And the development of resources like shale gas -- that we once thought were out of our reach -- promises to open up a huge source of cleaner, cheaper American energy. But getting there means we have to develop them in a way that’s safe and responsible.  

So, just as our early R&D investments helped lay the groundwork for the “shale gas revolution,” our work today will help make unconventional natural gas development safer and more environmentally sustainable.