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Is it worth going after natural gas?

Lighting a gas stove

TEXT OF STORY

Renita Jablonski: Oil is just above $102 a barrel. Today the Department of Energy hosts a meeting to discuss getting oil and natural gas from so-called "unconventional" geologic formations. Things like shale, tar sands and coal beds. As Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman explains, there's a lot of energy down there, but some question the costs of bringing it up.


Mitchell Hartman: The Department of Energy estimates there's at least 10 years worth of natural gas for the whole country stored in shale and coal seams from Texas to Pennsylvania. And geologists think there could be as much oil trapped under Colorado, Utah and Wyoming as we've extracted so far in all of human history.

The problem is this oil and gas is stuck in non-porous rock, so it doesn't flow up wells easily. The gas has to be flushed out; the oil has to be heated deep in the ground. All of which requires a lot of water and energy, and costs a lot of money. But new technology is bringing that cost down, says Jerry Boak of the Colorado School of Mines.

Jerry Boak: Shell is on record in Fortune magazine as having said they believe they can produce oil from oil shale at $25 to $30 a barrel.

But environmentalists ask whether we should be using limited groundwater for oil and gas extraction. And some say we shouldn't even try to get at these new fossil fuels, since they'll just release more carbon into a warming atmosphere.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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