President Obama's call for an "all-of-the-above" approach to energy in last week's State of the Union address was heard loud and clear. The United States must pursue all of its energy options – including increased domestic oil and natural gas production, coal, nuclear, renewables and more.
That includes unconventional energy sources. Certainly, the United States is realizing almost unimaginable growth in the development of oil and natural gas from shale, which is powering an economic boom in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas and others.
Just a few years ago, that hardly seemed likely. Yet, the latest data from the Energy Information Administration demonstrates how technological advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have dramatically increased America's natural gas potential to the point that the EIA now says the U.S. is home to the second-largest natural gas reserves in the world, and that by 2035, 70 percent of the country's gas supply will be produced by frac'ing from shale and tight rock formations.
Another unconventional energy source, oil shale, will be discussed this week by the House Natural Resources Committee as it considers legislation to promote access to U.S. resources. By all accounts this resource base is enormous. The largest and highest quality oil shale deposits are in sparsely populated areas of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and the potentially recoverable oil from Western U.S. oil shale deposits is estimated at more than 800 billion barrels, or nearly three times the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia (267 billion). In its September 2011 report on North American resources, the National Petroleum Council notes that given the right technological advances, the potential of oil shale could be significant in terms of energy and jobs.
Several technologies have been developed around the world to make oil shale commercially viable in countries including Brazil, China and Estonia. With the United States holding nearly three times the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia in shale oil, we need the right policies to set the stage for commercial viability.
The president is right: an all-of-the-above approach is the best path for securing America's energy future. In oil shale, the United States has another vast energy resource that can't be dismissed – one that would be best developed by industry and the marketplace, guided by clear policies and a stable regulatory regime.
Let's hope that even if the EPA makes headway on tougher frac'ing mandates, President Obama is able to stand by his pledge.