Shale Gas and Energy Policy
New techniques to extract natural gas from unconventional resources have become economically competitive over the past several years, leading to a rapid and largely unanticipated expansion in natural gas production. The US Energy Information Administration projects that unconventional gas will supply nearly half of US gas production by 2035. In addition, by significantly expanding and diversifying the gas supply internationally, the exploitation of new unconventional gas resources has the potential to reshape energy policy at national and international levels—altering geopolitics and energy security, recasting the economics of energy technology investment decisions, and shifting trends in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In anticipation of this expansion, one of the perceived core advantages of unconventional gas—its relatively moderate GHG impact compared to coal—has recently come under scrutiny. In this paper, we compare the GHG footprints of conventional natural gas, unconventional natural gas (i.e. shale gas that has been produced using the process of hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking'), and coal in a transparent and consistent way, focusing primarily on the electricity generation sector. We show that for electricity generation the GHG impacts of shale gas are 11% higher than those of conventional gas, and only 56% that of coal for standard assumptions.