Shale Gas: The Promise and the Peril

Vikram Rao

Shale gas has the potential to transform the U.S. energy-based economy in the electricity, transportation, and chemical sectors. U.S. success can be expected to translate to Europe and other parts of the world. Shale gas production is uniquely enabled by hydraulic fracturing, a technique that has come under heavy scrutiny for its potential to cause environmental damage. In this book, Vikram Rao addresses the issues surrounding shale gas in a balanced fashion. The book is intended to inform both sides of the fracturing debate, where currently rhetoric is overtaking understanding. Tailored for a nontechnical audience—with technical chemistry and geology information couched in sidebars—the book culminates in suggestions for research and guidance for policymaking.

Suggested Citation

Rao, V. (2012). Shale Gas: The Promise and the Peril: RTI Press Publication No. BK-0009-1206. Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press.


“A tour de force—everything you wanted to know and were afraid to ask about shale gas: the tremendous potential, the pitfalls to avoid, and how to use this vast resource to jujitsu the oil cartel. A highly enjoyable must-read that takes no prisoners.”

—Anne Korin, co-founder and Director, Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, and co-author of Turning Oil Into Salt (2009)

“For those who are confused about the technical aspects of the current public controversy over unconventional shale gas production, this book is … a solidly grounded effort to explain for the lay person both sides of the argument. Rao makes clear that he is an advocate of fossil fuel production—but wants us to do it intelligently, and doesn’t think that current market and regulatory structures will get us there. This is a healthy antidote to the frequently sloppy coverage in the media—now we need … a similar healthy antidote to the debate over whether we should leave the natural gas industry to carry out major industrial processes with no federal regulation of core aspects of its operations.”

—Carl Pope, former Executive Director and Chairman, Sierra Club

“Dr. Vikram Rao’s book is an outstanding contribution to the literature on this extremely important fuel and its implications for the energy future of the United States. In addition to those directly involved in the energy industry, policymakers, the environmental community, concerned citizens, investors, and researchers will find Dr. Rao’s book to be very useful, easily understandable, and interesting. I highly recommend this book!”

—Dr. Joseph Strakey, former Chief Technology Officer, National Energy Technology Laboratory

“Vik Rao’s overarching expertise, graceful style, balance, concision, and wit have produced a book … fair to both sides in the debate about whether and how to abate any environmental damage from hydrofracturing (‘fracking’). He paints a stunning picture of the promise of natural gas … including the revolutionary notion of producing fuels affordably from small, highly distributed facilities. If you read one book about the vital issue of the future of natural gas, it should be this one.”

—R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, venture partner with Lux Capital, and Chairman of the Advisory Board of Opportunities Development Group

Vikram Rao

Vikram Rao is executive director of the Research Triangle Energy Consortium (RTEC), an energy nonprofit founded by Duke University, North Carolina State University, RTI International, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Rao advises RTI International, venture capital firm Energy Ventures, and firms BioLargo, Inc., Global Energy Talent Ltd., Eastman Chemical Company, Biota Technology, Inc., and Integro Earth Fuels, Inc. He is Chairman of the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission. He retired as senior vice-president and chief technology officer of Halliburton Company in 2008.

As an organization, RTEC views natural gas as a transitional fuel to a future dominated by renewables and recognizes deep divisions within the U.S. regarding the ability to safely produce natural gas domestically. An engineer by training, Rao understands shale gas–related technology and operations. He became familiar with the environmental issues related to shale gas while serving in a pro bono advisory capacity to a major nongovernmental organization. For more information about RTEC and Rao's vision for the future of the energy industry, visit