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Evolution of Challenges to the Development of Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources

Abstract

The arrival of shale gas and tight oil development occurred at a crucial time for the U.S. energy industry and fortunately during a depressed domestic economy. Due to multi-stage horizontal hydraulic fracturing and other technological innovations, domestic hydrocarbon production increased dramatically over a short time-frame. This aided the U.S. economy and led to a significant shift in international energy policy. The new-found domestic reserves are apparently seen as competition by Saudi Arabia. The Saudis refused to adjust its production as world oil prices collapsed in the fall of 2014. Many technical challenges faced by the industry have been met and overcome as companies adapted and evolved. The industry made incredible gains on the environmental front, but the unsubstantiated claims by activist groups and some university researchers have been unrelenting. The shift to using more natural gas instead of coal has greatly reduced the amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere. While industry has continued to develop methods to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as CO2 and methane, these advances have not been recognized by their detractors. Most of the industry critics are set on total elimination of all carbon sources. They see no middle ground.

Many see natural gas as a “bridge” to the next energy source, whatever it may be. However, activists insist that hydrocarbon development be stopped now which is unrealistic. Activists have been able to persuade communities to enact bans on hydraulic fracturing. This is occurring even in historical oil and gas producing states (i.e., St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, and Denton, Texas). The greatest challenges to the industry are not technical, but are found in the human resources/public sector arena. “On-the-ground” community-based, neutral-entity approaches, such as those developed by Louisiana State University–Shreveport Red River Watershed Management Institute, can bring together the public, operators, and regulators to address these critical challenges.