The ongoing shale gas boom has expanded domestic energy production, pushed wholesale electricity prices to record lows, and accelerated the closure of America’s aging coal plant fleet, lowering national power-sector carbon emissions. This revolution in natural gas — unleashed by a flood of recently accessible shale gas reserves, once thought to be unrecoverable — is the product of over 25 years of federal agencies and programs driving technology development in collaboration with private gas companies.
In a new fact sheet, we have compiled the long and impressive history of shale fracturing (or “fracking”) development in the United States. Through a series of investigations and interviews with gas industry executives and federal researchers, we uncovered the path that shale fracking took towards full commercial maturity.
The history of shale gas fracking in the United States was punctuated by the successive developments of massive hydraulic fracturing (MHF), microseismic imaging, horizontal drilling, and other key innovations that when combined made the once unreachable energy resource technically recoverable (see infographic below for details). Along each stage of the innovation pipeline — from basic research to applied R&D to cost-sharing on demonstration projects to tax policy support for deployment — public-private partnerships and federal investments helped push hydraulic fracturing in shale into full commercial competitiveness.
Today, next-generation advanced energy technologies — including wind, solar, advanced batteries, nuclear power, and others — face many of the same scaling and cost challenges that shale fracking faced in the 1970s and 1980s. But significant progress has been made, and if policymakers use the shale history as a model for a smart and efficient public clean tech investment portfolio, then policy support can accelerate clean tech’s march towards subsidy independence and full commercial maturity.