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Shale Gas: Boon Could Stunt Renewable Energy Alternatives, Study Says

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Shale gas has transformed the U.S. energy landscape in the past several years-but it may crowd out renewable energy and other ways of cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a new study warns.

A team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology used economic modeling to show that new abundant natural gas is likely to have a far more complex impact on the energy scene than is generally assumed. If climate policy continues to play out in the United States with a relatively weak set of measures to control emissions, the new gas source will lead to lower gas and electricity prices, and total energy use will be higher in 2050.

Absent the shale supply, the United States could have expected to see GHG emissions 2 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 under this relatively weak policy. But the lower gas prices under the current shale gas outlook will stimulate economic growth, leading GHG emissions to increase by 13 percent over 2005. And the shale gas will retard the growth of renewable energy's share of electricity, and push off the development of carbon capture and storage technology, needed to meet more ambitious policy targets, by as long as two decades.

"Shale gas is a great advantage to the U.S. in the short term, for the next few decades," said MIT economist Henry Jacoby, lead author of the new study. "But it is so attractive that it threatens other energy sources we ultimately will need."


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