A possible energy solution for North America

Map showing Appalachia region where some of it holds natural gas reserves, specifically Pennsylvania, West Virginia and parts of New York

The Unites States and to a slightly lesser extent, Canada are trying to figure out a way to develop energy from within rather than importing it from unfriendly nations in unstable parts of the world. They are also looking at energy sources that are cleaner than coal which, along with crude oil are the foundation of the energy supply (Niagara Falls helps too). There are plans out there to increase our reliance on natural gas since it is abundant and cleaner than coal. However, there has been concern that the infrastructure is not set up for it as well and that extracting it in large amounts may be costly and not a quick transition.

Recently though, newer techniques to extract the natural gas has opened up the prospects of drilling in places that have a lot of this energy source and can do it rather quickly and effectively. In fact, some oil companies have already reallocated resources from the tar sands in Alberta to Pennsylvania where the Appalachia region of the U.S. holds a lot of this natural gas. They are using a technique called hydraulic fracturing which enables them to break the shale rock that is preventing the gas from escaping. Once they crack the rock, they can then remove the natural gas that is freed.

It is possible that more places in North America have similar deposits, but this one in Pennsylvania can generate enough natural gas alone to last decades. This will not only be a cleaner source than coal, but it can possibly be used in future transport vehicles making it an alternative to crude oil from the Middle East.

There is one major potential problem with this technique though. There are concerns that this technique can contaminate the surrounding water supply rendering it undrinkable. Research studies are underway to see what effects, if any this technique has on the water supply. There is also the other issue that this will industrialize areas that are home to farmland and natural landscapes. Environmentalists are not happy about this idea and are lobbying governments to prevent it from becoming a major part of the local economy.

The government will surely have to regulate this technique, especially in regions like this and industry experts are crossing their fingers that the regulations they impose will not be too costly and restrictive so that it will still make economic sense. Assuming the government does not over regulate this industry and that the research finds no serious risks to the water supply, this development can be huge for North America. It can allow the continent to take a strong exemplary lead in the fight against climate change and at the same time, begin to strengthen domestic energy production that can remove a lot of risk that we currently hold due to our reliance on foreign supplies.

The timeline for meaningful amounts of natural gas to be extracted from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York is about 2020, but it could begin within the next few years. Again, this is on the assumption that the government doesn’t impede the progress with over regulation and that the water supply is not impacted by it.

If natural gas will be drilled in this region, then the states I mentioned earlier stand to gain a lot of employment opportunities, investments and a serious increase in economic activity. Business opporunities, related and unrelated to the drilling will also appear and can last for many years to come.