Roger Cooper How Much Natural Gas Does the U.S. Have

Recently the Heritage Foundation posted an article on cap and trade on their blog. In the article, they talk about the potential of natural gas supply. I left a comment there and thought the information might be useful for anyone considering the same question. My thoughts on the article appear below.

Many people have heard conflicting numbers regarding the supply of natural gas in the United States. Most everyone who knows about U.S. natural gas supply would agree that the U.S. has abundant supplies of natural gas. So why the confusion? It’s because the natural gas industry uses different numbers, for different reasons, to describe supply. My bottom line: Someday the U.S. may stop using natural gas because something better may come along. But when that happens, I believe there will still be huge quantities of natural gas lying beneath U.S. lands and waters.

10 Years of Supply: Sometimes people are referring to “proved reserves” of natural gas. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest estimate of proved reserves of dry natural gas in the U.S. is 237,726 billion cubic feet – enough to supply current U.S. demand for about 10 years.

Proved reserves look something like inventory, what you have discovered and know you can produce if you go ahead and drill it. The U.S. usually has around 8 to 10 years of proved reserves.

80 Years of Supply: Another way of looking at natural gas supply is to look at the U.S. natural gas resource base. The natural gas resource base can mean all natural gas that exists or, more commonly, all natural gas that is currently technically recoverable. Technical recovery also usually implies that the gas can be recovered economically. This is where we see the big differences in numbers. The 2007 report of the Potential Gas Committee of the Colorado School of Mines determined that in 2006 the U.S. had a natural gas resource base of 1,525 Trillion cubic feet of natural in the U.S. (about an 82 year supply).

Thousands of Years of Supply: Does this mean that in 82 years we will run out of natural gas? No. It means that with today’s technologies and in today’s market we may have an 82 year supply. But there are mind-numbing quantities of natural gas that we do not count today. It is likely that the next report of the Potential Gas Committee will find that we now have much more natural gas because of the relatively recent perfection of drilling technologies that will allow the production of huge quantities of U.S. natural gas from shale. But even gas from shale may be a drop in the bucket compared to the staggering quantities of frozen natural gas that are in and around the United States. This is regular natural gas that is frozen because it is under pressure in the waters of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. This frozen natural gas is called methane hydrates or methane clathrates and we currently do not have the technologies in place to produce this natural gas from the OCS. However, methane hydrates are also found in Alaska and northern Canada beneath the permafrost. Recently experimental wells have been drilled and some natural gas from methane hydrates have been produced with today’s technologies.

When you look at natural gas from methane hydrates, the numbers are staggering. It has often been said that the energy from the methane hydrates in the U.S. vastly exceed the energy found in all the coal, oil and conventional natural gas in the U.S. combined. One estimate of U.S. methane hydrates is 200,000 Trillion cubic feet – close to 9,000 years of supply at current U.S. consumption levels.

So how much natural gas do we have in the United States? The realistic answer depends on technology and economics.

Roger Cooper

About Roger Cooper

Roger Cooper is Executive Vice President for Policy and Planning of the American Gas Association, which represents 200 local energy utility companies that deliver natural gas to more than 64 million homes, businesses and industries throughout the United States. AGA’s primary roles are to advocate the interests of its natural gas utility members and their customers and to provide information and services promoting operational excellence in the safe, reliable and cost-competitive delivery of natural gas. Roger has previously served at AGA as Acting President; Senior Vice President for Government Relations; Group Vice President for Government Relations and Policy Analysis; and as Deputy General Counsel. Prior to joining AGA in 1986, Roger was in private practice where he represented a number of local gas distribution companies. He holds a J.D. with high honors from Georgetown University Law Center, an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. from Hiram College. He is a frequent speaker on energy and natural gas issues.
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