The role of global natural gas in the U.S. economy is expected to be a major part of the debate over energy policy in the 112th Congress. This report briefly explains key aspects of global natural gas markets, including supply and demand, as well as major U.S. developments.
Natural gas is considered a potential bridge fuel to a low carbon economy because it is cleaner burning than its hydrocarbon rivals coal and oil. Natural gas combustion emits about two-thirds less carbon dioxide than coal and one-quarter less than oil when consumed in a typical electric power plant. Natural gas combustion also emits less particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides than coal or oil. Additionally, improved methods to extract natural gas from certain shale formations has significantly increased the resource profile of the United States, which has spurred other countries to try to develop shale gas. If the United States and other countries can bring large new volumes of natural gas to market, then natural gas could play a larger role in the world’s economy. Several key factors will determine whether significant new quantities of natural gas come to market, particularly unconventional natural gas resources. These factors include price, technical capability, environmental concerns, and political considerations. Many countries, both producing and consuming, are watching how the development of U.S. unconventional natural gas resources evolves.
- Natural gas is likely to play a greater role in the world energy mix given its growing resource base and its relatively low carbon emissions compared to other fossil fuels.
- The world used over 100,000 billion cubic feet (bcf) of natural gas in 2009, of which the United States consumed almost 23,000 bcf, the most of any country. Between 2008 and 2009, world consumption declined about 2.6%, while U.S. consumption dropped 1.6%, or 388 bcf.
- In 2009, almost 84% of the natural gas the United States consumed was from domestic production. Another 14 % of consumption was met with Canadian imports. Liquefied natural gas (LNG), mainly from Trinidad & Tobago and Egypt, comprised just 2% of consumption.
- U.S. unconventional natural gas reserves and production, particularly shale gas, have grown rapidly in recent years. In 2009, shale gas reserves increased 76%, while production rose 47%, according to a recent U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) report. The new shale gas resources have changed the U.S. natural gas position from net importer to potentially a net exporter. Other countries are now exploring their own shale gas resources.
Note: This summary was taken from the Congressional Research Service Report R41543 by Michael Ratner