A new technique that tapped previously inaccessible supplies of natural gas in the United States is spreading to the rest of the world, raising hopes of a huge expansion in global reserves of the cleanest fossil fuel.
Italian and Norwegian oil engineers and geologists have arrived in Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania to learn how to extract gas from layers of a black rock called shale. Companies are leasing huge tracts of land across Europe for exploration. And oil executives are gathering rocks and scrutinizing Asian and North African geological maps in search of other fields.
The global drilling rush is still in its early stages. But energy analysts are already predicting that shale could reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas. They said they believed that gas reserves in many countries could increase over the next two decades, comparable with the 40 percent increase in the United States in recent years.
“It’s a breakout play that is going to identify gigantic resources around the world,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy expert at Rice University. “That will change the geopolitics of natural gas.”
More extensive use of natural gas could aid in reducing global warming, because gas produces fewer emissions of greenhouse gases than either oil or coal. China and India, which have growing economies that rely heavily on coal for electricity, appear to have large potential for production of shale gas. Larger gas reserves would encourage developing countries to convert more of their transportation fleets to use natural gas rather than gasoline.
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