What are the likely effects of fracking on global energy security?

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Introduction

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is a novel method for extracting oil and natural gas that involves injecting highly pressurised water, sand and chemicals into shale rock deep beneath the Earth’s surface (Sica 2015; Holloway & Rudd 2013, p.xi). Commercially viable fracking techniques have been honed over the past two decades in the USA, and have proved to be an effective means by which “difficult to reach resources of oil and gas” can be exploited (BBC News 2013). Fracking is generally agreed to have had a dramatic effect on the price of fossil fuels, leading some to declare a “fracking revolution” (Ruhl 2013).

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The Brookings Institute estimates that average US gas prices in 2013 were 47% lower than they would have been without fracking. This means that, overall, consumers of gas saved approximately $13 Billion in the period between 2007 and 2013 – a figure that is increasing exponentially as production of fracked fuel increases (Dews 2015). As fracking was pioneered in the USA – a market recently described by McDonald (2014) as “account[ing] for practically all of the world’s commercial production” – this paper will base its outlook on the impact of fracking on US energy security. We will begin by looking at the potential opportunities presented by fracking, then turn to the domestic challenges before considering the global impact, which will be split into a critique of the geopolitics and an assessment of the environmental factors raised by the technique.

The potential of fracking

The United States Energy Information Agency estimates that there are approximately 7229 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas reserves globally (EIA-ARI 2013). This figure is likely to increase significantly, given that during this study, the EIA surveyed just 46 regions in 41 separate countries (p.1). For comparison, the Oil and Gas Journal’s 2012 “Worldwide look at Reserves and Production” put the total figure of proven recoverable conventional gas reserves at 7074 trillion cubic feet; a figure already smaller than the potential of shale gas, and one that is likely to be dwarfed as further shale exploration yields new gas fields. Although commentators such as Inman (2014) have called the predicted size of potential reserves of shale gas into question, the potential for independent energy production is obvious, and has already been hinted at by the American experience. Between 2005 and 2013, the USA reduced net imports from 10.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas, to just 4.8 billion cubic feet. Over the same period, the wholesale price of gas collapsed from a high of $8.79 to a low of $3.71. Some experts expect the USA to become a net exporter of natural gas as soon as 2018 (Oil and Energy Trends 2013). Chief economist and Vice President of BP,

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