Energy analysts predict more than 50% of the natural gas produced in the United States will come from shale by the year 2030, coupled with a rising demand for natural gas in power generation and an opportunity to export to world markets.

Peter Robertson, an independent senior advisor for Deloitte LLP, told more than 1,400 online conferees Tuesday that more than 2,000 companies were currently drilling gas wells across the United States.

“It’s Thanksgiving time this week and my first thought is we ought to give thanks for this unbelievable opportunity that the U.S. has been presented,” Robertson said. “We get a lot of bad news around the world these days but this is truly a rare opportunity to produce energy at a very affordable rate.”

The companies drilling gas wells, according to Robertson, “are all having different kinds of experiences in different locations. But the way we handle this is critically important. If we do it right, then there is no reason whatsoever to be concerned about the environment. As long as we drill those wells right, case them properly and cement them off, there is no problem. There’s nothing here that we can’t do very safely and consistently.”

During Tuesday’s conference “Shale Gas: Leveraging This Boom to the U.S. Economy,” Robertson cited data from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Energy Information Administration, which found that world natural gas production totaled 111 Tcf in 2008, 2 Tcf of which was from shale gas produced in the United States. But American shale gas production balloons to 12 Tcf by 2035, when world natural gas production is expected to total 180 Tcf.

“There’s a lot of gas in the world,” Robertson said, citing China, South Africa, Brazil and Australia as examples. “We don’t need to worry about exporting gas, there’s plenty of it.”

But Roger Ihne, principal consultant for Deloitte Consulting LLP, said the abundance of shale gas in the United States was having a “profound impact” on domestic prices.

“The reduction in U.S. natural gas prices as a result of shale gas really puts the U.S. at a competitive advantage to many other places in the world,” Ihne said. “All of sudden we have gone from expecting to have to import tremendous amounts of LNG [liquefied natural gas] to a scenario where our gas is so abundant and relatively inexpensive to extract that there are opportunities to arbitrage into higher cost markets around the world.”

Deloitte said projected world demand for natural gas was expected to grow 1.9% every year through 2030, with Asia and the Middle East posting the highest growth rates. The firm also found that the Middle East leads in global gas production and is expected to triple in volume within the next 20 years. Also over the next two decades, Australia is expected to have a surge in LNG exports.

But Robertson made it clear that no matter what global shale play produced the natural gas, the industry shares in its duty to take the public’s environmental concerns seriously and should stay on message: hydraulic fracturing (fracking) can be done safely.

“I can’t emphasize this enough; it’s ours to lose,” Robertson said of the opportunity afforded to industry. “It’s ours to mess up. We have to get this right. We know we can do it, that’s not the point. We have to really execute with excellence.

“There are so many wells being drilled in so many different parts of the country that it is an enormous challenge with the public and with our performance. Every little slip gets hugely magnified, which is probably the way it should be. [But] our industry hasn’t done a particularly good job over the years of maintaining a public profile the way perhaps we should. This is our time [to do so].”

Recently the World Energy Council also predicted that the natural gas industry in the United States will continue to grow, excluding regulatory efforts to ban fracking or another worldwide economic recession (see Shale Daily, Nov. 9).