Shale gas could become one of the most important energy sources in years to come, and as every other energy source shale gas has its advantages and disadvantages. Before talking more about shale gas advantages and disadvantages we should first define shale gas. Shale gas is natural gas found in the shale rock, and is derived from underground shale deposits that are broken up by hydraulic fracturing.
When talking about advantages of shale gas many energy experts would first point out the fact that shale gas is connected with significantly less carbon emissions compared to coal (shale gas gives off around half the carbon emissions of coal).
Shale gas is also a readily available energy source, for instance, if the latest estimates are right then North America alone has approximately 1,000 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas which is enough to supply U.S. natural gas needs for 50 years or so. Recent analysis has also showed that shale gas could provide up to half of America’s gas supply by 2020.
Shale gas could also decrease energy costs because massive shale gas production would likely cause a significant decline in natural gas prices. Massive shale gas production would also help improve our energy security, and help reduce our dependence on expensive foreign fossil fuels.
Shale gas could also provide cleaner energy option for many developing countries that are currently heavily relying on coal, the dirtiest energy source of them all.
There are also some disadvantages of shale gas that I should mention here. Shale gas despite being (significantly) cleaner energy source compared to coal is still connected with significant carbon emissions, thus being less acceptable from environmental point of view than renewable energy sources. There is also the environmental hazard in form of potential leakages of methane gas from shale gas wells that could offset the carbon dioxide reductions and climate benefit of switching from coal to natural (shale) gas.
The fast development of shale gas industry could slow down the further development of renewable energy industry, especially if shale gas (as it is expected) becomes one of the cheapest energy options. Renewable energy is having tough time competing with coal, and with cheap, readily available shale gas, things could become even worse for renewable energy sector.
Currently, the costs of extracting shale gas are higher compared to costs of extracting conventional gas or coal but the further advancement in drilling technologies could help decrease shale gas extraction costs.
It's still too early to say that the shale gas will be one of the game's changers in global energy market but the potential is undoubtedly there. After all, the US has already offered to help developing countries use shale gas as a cleaner alternative to coal.