The nation's total natural gas supply has reached its highest level in 52 years, according to a research committee funded by the industry.
The Potential Gas Committee's latest biennial assessment of the nation's total technically recoverable natural gas reserves far surpassed its last highest estimates from 2014 by tens of trillions of units of recoverable fuel.
The total U.S. reserve is so vast that it may be hard for a person outside of industry to fathom it. First, the committee measures everything in trillions of cubic feet, or Tcf, because natural gas, for the most part, isn't a liquid like crude oil. That may seem a bit odd when the numbers jump as high as Wednesday's estimates, climbing to 2,817 trillion cubic feet in 2016, about a 300 Tcf increase from its last 2014 assessment.
Another way of representing that 2,817 Tcf number is to say it is almost 500 trillion barrels of crude oil equivalent.
To lend some perspective, the U.S. consumed about 27 Tcf of natural gas in 2016, according to the Energy Information Administration. The new number from the committee would support that rate of consumption for about 104 years.
"This is the highest resource evaluation in the committee's 52-year history, exceeding the previous high assessment (from 2014) by 302 Tcf (increase of 12%)," according to the gas committee. "The increase resulted from reassessments of shale gas resources in the Atlantic, Gulf Coast, Mid-Continent and Rocky Mountain areas," it said.
The committee assessment is based on technically recoverable resources, which is the natural gas that can be extracted using current technologies and techniques. As technologies improve, the reserve can increase, although it may not be profitable for companies to drill everywhere that it is possible to do so.
"The latest assessment by PGC confirms that the U.S. has abundant resources of natural gas," said Alexei Milkov, director of the Potential Gas Agency at the Colorado School of Mines that assists in compiling the report. "These resources are present in various reservoirs both onshore and offshore."
The committee's number reflects natural gas from shale, which uses hydraulic fracturing, conventional drilling wells and offshore reservoirs.
"The record gas resources assessed by the PGC, in addition to robust domestic production levels and booked reserves, paint a picture of strong supply of natural gas in the U.S. for many years to come," Milkov said.
Some of the areas the committee evaluated are currently off limits to drilling, such as those off the Atlantic coast. But the Trump administration is working to open up the East Coast to drilling, and late last month announced it would be redoing the Obama administration's five-year leasing plan for drilling on the outer-continental shelf.
"The Atlantic area ranks as the country's richest resource area with 39 percent of total U.S. traditional resources, followed by the Gulf Coast (including the Gulf of Mexico) with 20 percent, Rocky Mountains with 17 percent, and the Mid-Continent with 14 percent," according to a report summary. "Changes in the total assessment from year-end 2014 to year-end 2016 ... arose primarily from the evaluation of recent drilling, well-test and production data from these four areas."
The results of the study would support Trump's pro-growth "energy dominance" agenda that emphasizes exporting more U.S. natural gas to Europe and Asia. Manufacturers, however, are warning the administration that the 100-year supply of natural gas is a myth and moving too fast on exports could harm the nation's economy.
The U.S. is the largest producer of natural gas in the world, which has kept the price of energy low in U.S. and attracted energy-intensive businesses back into the country due to the boom in shale gas from fracking.