The growing exploitation of natural gas locked in shale deposits in North America and the abundant oil and clean energy resources of Latin America have changed the dynamics of the global energy market, according to global energy experts speaking on Thursday.
With the world's energy demands shifting from the US to China and India, the Americas are increasingly becoming major energy suppliers, panelists said at a discussion in Washington organized by the Americas Energy Action Group and the Inter-American Development Bank.
Robert Mosbacher Jr, chairman of Mosbacher Energy Company, said that oil production in particular is shifting from the Persian Gulf to North and South America. Also, Latin America is the world's largest clean energy producer.
"I think the story of the Americas is energy," Mosbacher said adding that this story has gone largely unnoticed.
One of the other reasons for the major shift in energy production in North America is the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process through which natural gas trapped inside rocks can be extracted by pumping highly pressurized water and sand underground.
The export of natural gas obtained through fracking in the United States is highly regulated, however. To date, only one company has been authorized by the Department of Energy to build a terminal where natural gas can be liquified and shipped off.
Mosbacher said that will likely change soon - he estimates that natural gas exports will jump in thee years the earliest when regulations are eased.
Plans for 15 more export terminals are waiting to be approved, according to the Wall Street Journal, which if built, could export 21.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, or roughtly one-third of the US's total production.
However, each export terminal costs 5 billion dollars to build, the Journal notes, which will likely put a limit on their number.
Since the practice started to spread, fracking has been criticised for damaging the environment, especially as dangerous chemicals can get into ground water.
"The environmental issues related to hydraulic fracking, I would say, are real, but they are manageable," Mosbacher said.
In 2011, the US produced 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but according to a forecast by the Energy Information Administration, the amount is likely to rise to 33 trillion cubic feet by 2040.
The report also showed that the use of coal in electricity production plummetted from 53 to 42 per cent between 1993 and 2011, while the the number for natural gas has gone up from 13 to 25 per cent in the same period.
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