New sources of gas could transform the world’s energy markets, says Simon Wright—but it won’t be quick or easy
COLOURLESS, ODOURLESS, LIGHTER than air. Natural gas may not have much impact on the senses, but as a source of heat and power it is transforming energy markets. Around 100AD Plutarch, a Graeco-Roman poet, noted the “eternal fires” in what is now Iraq. They were probably methane gas seeping out of the ground, ignited by lightning. Those eternal fires are now proliferating. An unexpected boom in shale gas that has taken off in America may well spread elsewhere and will add massively to global gas supplies.
Shale gas—an “unconventional” source of methane, like coal-bed gas (in coal seams) and tight gas (trapped in rock formations)—has rapidly transformed America’s energy outlook. At the same time discoveries of vast reserves of conventional gas from traditional wells have pushed up known reserves around the world. Gas is the only fossil fuel set to increase its share of energy demand in the years to come.