the U.S. is counting on

a long-term abundance of oil & natural gas

But what if the boom is just a bubble?

False Promises

sb-reality-imageIn recent years Americans have been hearing that the United States is poised to regain its role as the world’s premier oil and natural gas producer, thanks to the widespread use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). This “shale revolution,” we’re told, will fundamentally change the U.S. energy picture for decades to come—leading to energy independence, a rebirth of U.S. manufacturing, and a surplus supply of both oil and natural gas that can be exported to allies around the world. This promise of oil and natural gas abundance is influencing climate policy, foreign policy, and investments in alternative energy sources.

The primary source for these rosy expectations of future production is the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA).

But what if the EIA’s forecasts are wrong?

The Reality

The Reality is that the government’s long-term forecasts—the ones everyone is relying on to guide our energy policy and planning—are overly optimistic. An exhaustive, county-by-county analysis of the 12 major shale plays in the U.S. (accounting for 89% of current tight oil and 88% of current shale gas production) concludes that both oil and natural gas production will peak this decade and decline to a small fraction of current production by 2040.

Shale plays suffer from high decline rates and declining well quality as the “sweet spots” run out, meaning that ever more wells will have to be drilled just to keep production flat—until even that is no longer achievable. Continued drilling requires massive amounts of capital, which can only be supported by high levels of debt or higher prices.


If the long-term future of U.S. oil and natural gas production depends on resources in the country’s deep shale deposits, as the Energy Department contends, we are in for a big disappointment.



Drilling Deeper

Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom investigates whether the Department of Energy’s expectation of long-term domestic oil and natural gas abundance is founded. It aims to gauge the likely future of U.S. tight oil and shale gas production based on an in-depth assessment of all drilling and production data from the major shale plays, current through early- to mid-2014. The report determined future production profiles given assumed rates of drilling, average well quality by area, well- and field-decline rates, and the estimated number of available drilling locations.

The report was authored by J. David Hughes on behalf of Post Carbon Institute.


Learn More

Additional Resources

In the Media

Below is some of the media coverage of our analysis and reports.


Thank you! I have received your message.