Report: World could see natural-gas 'golden age'

"We have seen remarkable developments in natural gas markets in recent months,” IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka said in a statement. “There is a strong potential for gas to take on a larger role, but also for the global gas market to become more diversified and therefore improve energy security.”

But Tanaka also said that natural gas alone will not prevent a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius, an increase scientists warn must be avoided to prevent catastrophic climate change.

“While natural gas is the ‘cleanest’ fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel,” Tanaka said. “Its increased use could muscle out low-carbon fuels, such as renewables and nuclear — particularly in the wake of the incident at Fukushima and the likelihood of a reduced role for nuclear in some countries.”

Much of this natural-gas boom outlined by the IEA would require new policies and technological development for unconventional natural-gas production, which represents 40 percent of the projected increase in the agency’s scenario.

Countries like the United States have discovered massive quantities of natural gas. But companies must engage in a natural-gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to get access to the resources.

Increased reliance on fracking as a method of natural-gas production has drawn the ire of the environmental community and many policymakers, who fear that injecting water, chemicals and sand into the ground to loosen the valuable reserves could harm the environment and contaminate water supplies.

“Unconventional gas resources are now estimated to be as large as conventional resources, but their production outlook is uncertain as the use of hydraulic fracturing to produce unconventional gas has raised environmental concerns and tested existing regulatory regimes,” the IEA says.