NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

One Hundred Years of Natural Gas

February 23, 2012

In his State of the Union Speech, President Obama made the claim that the United States possesses within its borders enough natural gas to supply the country for 100 years.  This statement has come under scrutiny by a number of researchers, as the amount of natural gas, future demand and technological advances are difficult to calculate.  Nevertheless, most reports of geological surveys seem to support the president's assertion, says Ronald Bailey, Reason Magazine's science correspondent.

  • The United States currently consumes a bit more than 22 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas per year producing electricity, heating buildings and providing feedstock to chemical plants.
  • Proven reserves are 273 Tcf which would be completely depleted at the current rate of consumption in about 12 years.
  • Much of the remaining natural gas, presumably, lies in unproven reserves, which require either additional effort to discover new deposits or superior technology to take advantage of already-found resources.

In terms of estimating unproven resources, such as the vast amount of natural gas available in the Marcellus Shale deposits, various research teams have arrived at highly variable figures.

  • John Staub, the team leader for exploration and production analysis at the Energy Information Administration (EIA), points out that a recent cutback in the EIA's estimates still places total domestic supply at around 2,214 Tcf (approximately 100 years' worth of natural gas).
  • Last September, the National Petroleum Council (NPC) issued a study reviewing a number of technically recoverable natural gas resource estimates ranging from 1,500 Tcf to 3,600 Tcf.
  • In 2010, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative settled on a technically recoverable resource estimate of 2,100 Tcf of natural gas.

It bears mention that projections regarding future technology and demand are difficult to estimate, but that past estimates have almost without fail been upwardly adjusted.  This suggests that there is a natural, conservative bias in estimating procedures.

Furthermore, the price for natural gas will affect research money that is allocated to the natural gas sector, along with efforts by suppliers to discover additional deposits.  Because price is a constantly varying figure (it fell from $12 as recently as 2008 to about $2.50 today), projections will always be variable.

Source: Ronald Bailey, "100 Years of Natural Gas," Reason Magazine, February 14, 2012.

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