While a lot of the political fodder during the 2014 election season focused on the “war on coal,” a bigger and even stronger show of force is transforming the nation’s economic landscape, especially in “war torn” Appalachia: natural gas.
The natural resource has emerged from the back burner of U.S. energy development and onto the hot seat. Over the last seven years, it has not only fueled new economic growth but it has also changed the way electricity is generated. Beyond the newfound abundance — a result of shale gas drilling technologies — the manufacturing sector has subsequently boomed.
To be clear, dry natural gas can be used for electric generation. Wet natural gas, or natural gas liquids that include methane, ethane butane and propane, are separated from the dry gas. Those elements are then used as feedstocks in the manufacturing and chemical processes to make universal products, like fertilizers.
Because of the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, developers are able to access the shale gas — unconventional natural gas — a mile or more beneath the earth’s surface where it is embedded in rocks. While the friction between producers and ecologists is heated, there is now a plethora of dry gas, making U.S. natural gas prices half of what they are in Europe and a third of what they pay in Asia.