Natural gas has been one of the biggest energy stories of the last decade. It seems almost unbelievable that less than a decade ago U.S. gas production from conventional fields was in decline. At that time, many experts predicted the United States would soon become the world’s biggest importers of natural gas.
But that was before technological innovation unleashed huge oil and gas supplies trapped in shale rock. Now the nation is producing 50 percent more gas, making it the world's biggest producer.
But getting all that new gas to market for an industry that exploded virtually overnight has been a challenge. Almost a third of the wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 2004 were inactive because of a lack of pipelines to transport the gas, according to a report prepared last year by a task force created by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.
That is about to change. New gas pipelines will soon go online that will unleash rich reserves of shale gas in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The construction addresses a lack of pipeline capacity that has stunted development of two of the largest shale fields in the United States, the Marcellus and Utica formations that are located in those states.
Those three states could supply about a third of all U.S. natural gas once the pipeline expansion is complete, up from about 25 percent now, according to projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The network will bring cheaper fuel supplies for power generation and industry being built in the eastern half of Canada and the United States, especially along the U.S. Gulf Coast. It would also transport the huge volumes needed to feed facilities that chill the gas to liquid so it can be shipped internationally.
The lines should allow output to increase from both fields by about 50 percent in the next two years, according to the EIA. Gas from the Marcellus and Utica is among the cheapest in the country.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC last year agreed to build a multibillion-dollar petrochemical complex near Pittsburgh to be close to the source of the Marcellus and Utica gas. It will employ about 6,000 workers to build the facility and is expected to create about 600 permanent jobs when completed.