Shale gas is generally and very fairly described as a game-changer. Quite what these changes will be is open to the usual guess-work, well-informed or otherwise, but we know they will be Big - because they already have been. The US gas market is transformed, and this has freed up LNG cargoes from Qatar for the likes of us in what would otherwise have been very cold winter days in 2010 and 2011. US gas prices are significantly lower than those in Europe and this will remain structural until either (a) American firms build liquefaction plant to send their own LNG over in large quantities and/or (b) European countries develop their own plentiful shale.
The former could be the quicker, though liquefaction plants are not cheap. On some estimates, the USA has enough potential to become the worlds biggest LNG exporter (slide 10 here), which would mean overtaking both Qatar and Australia. Certainly with Japan's gas demanding booming post-Fukushima, there are attractive prices to be had in the Far East.
Some commentators interpret this very unfavourably for the UK and Europe. You may have seen this scary piece in the DTel, suggesting we'll be left out in the cold, with all available LNG heading to the east. I don't take that too seriously: the "leading analysts" they quote are from Merrill Lynch - presumably a couple of interns who among other mistakes also apparently believe that "the UK became a net importer of gas for the first time in 2011" which is bollocks, we have been net importers since 2004, (having only been net exporters for 5 years, and importers for decades before that - it's called 'trade' !)
But here's a recent commentary I take much more seriously, because it might even be a Hopeful Sign. It is that endearingly red-faced old Tory buffer Charles Hendry (Minister of State for Energy at DECC), speaking at IP Week last month:
"I want particularly to talk about the development of unconventional gas and what it has done in in the US ... where we now see the gas price at less than a third of that in Europe and perhaps a sixth of that in Asia. This is something that is going to be fundamental".
Indeed it is: we can be structurally uncompetitive and dependent upon imports, or we can grow this industry (and destroy the case for wasting money on renewables). Frack on, Mr Hendry, I am glad you understand.