The real impact stems from its effect on the oil market. Shale gas offers the means to vastly increase the supply of fossil fuels for transportation, which will cut into the rising demand for oil — fuelled in part by China’s economic growth — that has dominated energy policymaking over the last decade.
The major geopolitical impact of shale extraction technology lies less in the fact that America will be more energy self-sufficient than in the consequent displacement of world oil markets by a sharp reduction in U.S. imports. This is likely to be reinforced by the development of shale oil resources in China, Argentina, Ukraine and other places, which will put additional pressure on global oil prices.
The second factor is the potential to use natural gas for transportation. Some analysts suggest that this will only be a realistic prospect for fleet and long-haul road transportation. But they are overlooking the immense advantage that natural gas has as a transportation fuel in America and Europe, which have both developed a natural gas infrastructure in urban areas that takes piped natural gas into homes, offices and supermarkets. Once gas is cheap and widely available, it is possible to consider dealing with the “last mile” problem of providing home refuelling kits so consumers can fill up natural-gas powered cars in their own garages.
The incentives to develop shale oil and natural gas are very great. But so far, the United States has only experienced the first stage of low natural-gas prices and the reimportation of energy intensive industries such as chemicals and steel because of low gas prices. The next stage of the shale revolution’s impact is going to be felt as major stimulus gets under way from lower oil prices. More broadly, the shale revolution will grant the United States a greater range of options in dealing with foreign states.
For the Europeans, the shale revolution is also largely positive. A greater variety of gas supplies from liquefied natural gas originally destined for the United States has been dumped in European markets; by 2020, shale gas in the form of liquefied natural gas is likely to begin arriving in Europe in significant quantities, and there is also the prospect of some domestic shale gas becoming available. Europe will also benefit from the second stage of the shale revolution as oil prices come under pressure.
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