Natural gas and the trouble with estimating fossil fuel reserves

Over the past few years, I've heard several people in the natural gas industry estimate that the United States is sitting on 100 years worth of natural gas. Every time I've heard the 100-year estimate batted around, it's been presented as a positive thing, a shorthand way of saying, "We've got tons of home-grown energy, people! We don't need to worry about the future of energy at all!"

It's an interesting example of the fundamental disconnect between short-term and long-term thinkers.

All things considered, 100 years is not really a very long time. Especially given the fact that estimates like this are based on current natural gas usage rates, but are presented with an implication that we should be using more natural gas than we currently do. I don't think that a 100-year-supply of something as critical as energy represents a time of plenty. I think it represents a ticking clock. At best, what you've got there is a transitional energy source—something with the potential to be cleaner and less politically complicated than coal and oil, that you can use while you build up an energy infrastructure based on something other than fossil fuels.

But the critique of that "100 years of gas" estimate goes even deeper. That's because any estimate of fossil fuel reserves is made under the limitations of corporate secrecy. Different well owners estimate reserves in different ways, so you can't just add up everybody's estimates and compare apples to apples. There's no way for independent sources to check estimates. Read the rest