Effects and Sustainability of the U.S. Shale Gas Boom

Effects and Sustainability of the U.S. Shale Gas Boom


Currently only three countries are producing shale gas through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on a commercial scale: the United States, Canada, and China. The United States is by far the dominant producer, with a new high of 32.9 billion cubic feet (bcf) per day in 2014.1 Key U.S. regions for shale gas mining are Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Texas. Canada is a distant second, with 3.9 bcf per day of natural gas as of May 2014; most of that production takes place in Alberta and Saskatchewan.2 China is in third place, with currently only 0.25 bcf per day.3 The Chinese shale gas fields are located in the Sichuan Basin. All three of these countries increased their output in 2014—and at a higher rate than conventional gas.4

The United States is the only country where shale gas production not only accounted for a significant share of total natural gas production but, by end of 2013, surpassed per-day output from non-shale wells and became the dominant source.5 (See Figure 1.) This made the United States a leading nation in natural gas in spite of declining conventional production.6 (See Figure 2.) Russia still has the strongest natural gas reserves (see Figure 3), followed by Iran and Qatar.7 Global estimated technically recoverable resources of shale gas are 7,299 trillion cubic feet (tcf).8 These appear to favor a different set of countries: China (1,115 tcf), Argentina (802 tcf), Algeria (707 tcf), Canada (573 tcf), the United States (567 tcf), Mexico (545 tcf), and Australia (437 tcf).9 However, continued investigations can substantially reduce or increase current estimates, in particular of the fraction that can be economically retrieved. Shale resource exploration efforts are being undertaken in several countries, including Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Colombia, Mexico, and Russia.10 But for various reasons none of these have commercial-scale production so far.11 Important factors include the reserve's depth below the surface, the surface material (rock or soil), existing infrastructure, and current natural gas prices in the markets.

Shale Gas Figure 1


Shale Gas Figure 2


Shale Gas Figure 3


Given limited domestic conventional reserves, most European countries depend on imports for natural gas; while some receive most of their gas from Norway or Qatar, many East European countries get half or more of their gas from Russia, shipped via pipelines through Ukraine.12 The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and European Union (EU) sanctions against Russia have led to calls for reducing or diversifying Europe's dependence on foreign energy sources.13 But in many cases recoverable quantities of shale gas in Europe remain uncertain, and supplies are located deeper underground, partly in densely populated areas. Additional factors such as ownership of mineral rights, taxation, and substantial environmental and safety concerns inhibit development of Europe’s shale gas resources, and in several countries there are ongoing discussions about fracking.

Genetically Modified Crop Industry Continues to Expand

Genetically Modified Crop Industry Continues to Expand

Wanqing Zhou | Mar 24, 2015


Genetically modified (GM) crops have had their genetic materials engineered through biotechnologies to introduce new or enhanced characteristics (traits), such as herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, enhancement of certain nutrients, and drought tolerance. The global plantation area of GM crops has been growing for more than two decades, since they were first commercialized in the early 1990s, and it reached 181.5 million hectares in 2014.1 (See Figure 1.) But the annual growth rate has slowed considerably, from over 125 percent in the late 1990s to 6.3 percent in the early 2010s.2

GM Crops Figure 1

 According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, an organization that has been keeping track of official information on GM crop field trials and plantings, North America and South America accounted for 87 percent of the global GM crop area in 2014, with 84.7 million and 73.3 million hectares, respectively.3 They were followed by Asia (19.5 million hectares), Africa (3.3 million hectares), Oceania (0.5 million hectares), and Europe (0.1 million hectares).4 

The peak growth in global planted area occurred in 1998.5 The 16.8-million-hectare increase that year—nearly twice the increase in 1997—was largely attributed to the rapid expansion of GM crops in the United States and Argentina.6 In the first decade of the twenty-first century, active growth in planted area expanded from North and South America to Asia and Africa.  For most of the 2010s, developing countries in South America (mainly Brazil and Argentina), Asia (mainly China and India), and Africa (mainly South Africa) added a larger area than the industrial countries did. Since 2012, the developing world has been planting larger areas of GM crops than industrial countries have. (See Figure 2.) However, the growth rates in both the industrial and the developing world are declining. 

GM Crops Figure 2

Food Trade and Self-Sufficiency

Food Trade and Self-Sufficiency

Gary Gardner | Mar 09, 2015


Imports of grain globally increased more than fivefold between 1960 and 2013 as more nations turned to international markets to help meet domestic food demand.1 (See Figure 1.) For some countries, the imported share of domestic grain consumption has risen substantially.2 In 2013, more than a third of the world’s nations—77 in all—imported at least 25 percent of the major grains they needed.3 This compares to just 49 countries in 1961, an increase of 57 percent over half a century.4  (See Table 1.)

Food Trade Figure 1


Food Trade Table 1

Even more worrying, 51 countries—about a quarter of the community of nations—imported more than half of their grain in 2013, and 13 imported all of the grain they needed.5 Meanwhile, the number of grain-exporting countries expanded by just 6 between 1961 and 2013.6

Determining the food import dependence of people, rather than of countries, is more challenging, because imported food is often consumed in a few locations (such as a country’s capital city) rather than distributed equally among an entire population.  But a 2013 study found that in 2000, some 950 million people—16 percent of the world’s population at the time—were using international trade to meet their food needs (although not just grain).7 

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