Policymakers must be strategic about shale revolution

The shale oil revolution can benefit the domestic manufacturing industry and the overall U.S. economy in a major way—as long as  policymakers keep sustainability in mind. That's the conclusion of a recent report by a University of Michigan-led panel.

The report, titled, "Shale Gas: A Game-Changer for U.S. Manufacturing," notes that abundant energy development has benefited a wide range of industries, such as aluminum, steel, paper, glass and food.

Thanks to new hydraulic fracturing technologies that allow energy companies to reach previously inaccessible shale oil and gas deposits, domestic energy prices have stabilized and even—in the case of natural gas—actually fallen.

As a result, industries that rely on a great deal of energy are now better able to manage their costs. What's more, demand for hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has in turn increased demand for supplies for additional energy production infrastructure. In both cases, the industries benefit tremendously.

Of course, for this to continue, policymakers will need to make a stronger effort to manage the energy boom sustainably. The study's authors noted that industry stakeholders need to win the public's trust.

"This rapid shift in energy supply and resource development has exposed an important weakness," said Mark Barteau, director of the U-M Energy Institute. "The U.S. lacks a strategic plan and a suite of economically, socially and environmentally viable policies to responsibly leverage the new abundance of low-cost natural gas as both a fuel and a feedstock for a variety of industries."

By working with environmental consultants, project stakeholders can work to reduce the environmental impact of their drilling activities.