A fantastic piece. Some highlights:

It took several modifications, but with every improvement they made, Mitchell and his team edged closer to the goal of making it economically viable to produce shale gas. By switching to fresh water from a gel substance they had initially started out using, they managed to slash the cost of each fracturing procedure from $365,000 to $80,000. They were also figuring out how to release more and more gas with each attempt.

What Devon added to the mix was a technique known as horizontal drilling. Instead of just drilling a hole straight down into the ground for several thousand metres, once the drill got to a certain point, they turned it sideways, and continued to drill horizontally. Now, they could fracture the rock at several points along this new well bore, both along its horizontal stretch and its vertical stretch. And that’s when the shale gas boom really began to take off.

Between 2000 and 2010, shale gas production in the US increased from 0.39 trillion cubic feet to 4.8 trillion cubic feet. By then, America had overtaken Russia as the number-one gas producer in the world.

Now, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates there are 860 trillion cubic feet of “technically recoverable” shale gas in the US, against just 273 trillion cubic feet in today’s “proved reserves”. That’s the equivalent of 40 years of gas consumption from shale gas alone.

Even more promising, the same technique used to extract gas from shale can also be applied to unlock previously unreachable oil deposits.