U.S. government estimates of the amount of natural gas that can be extracted by fracking may be far too optimistic, according to a new study by the University of Texas (UT) at Austin reported by OilPrice.com.

Researchers at UT’s Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering report that natural gas extraction from shale will peak around 2020, which is 20 years sooner than the federal government has predicted. These predictions are very important to consumers, many of whom have chosen natural gas for home heating because they believed the U.S. was sitting on a secure, long-term supply.

Belief in that long-term supply was bolstered by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which issued a report in 2013 claiming that shale wells, which require fracking to release their gas, would be productive at current levels for “over 30 years,” that is, at least until 2040.

“The problem, according to the UT researchers, goes far beyond merely running out of natural gas,” the article states. “The researchers warn that the U.S. and many other countries, relying on a long-term availability of inexpensive gas, are investing billions of dollars in vehicles, factories and power plants that depend on gas.” Similarly, many homeowners are spending thousands of dollars apiece to install natural gas heating equipment, because they have relied on government reports of the fuel’s long-term availability at low prices.

“But if the UT scientists are right and gas production begins to fall off around 2020, all those billions of dollars put into gas-based vehicles and infrastructure will have been wasted,” the OilPrice.com article states.

The researchers conducted their own analyses of natural gas production at the four leading U.S. shale gas formations: the Barnett in Texas; the Fayetteville in Arkansas, the Haynesville in Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas; and the Marcellus in and around the Appalachian Basin, according to the article. These four formations provide two-thirds of U.S. gas production.

“Their conclusion: Not only will gas production peak in 2020, output will be cut in half by 2030,” the article states.

To read the OilPrice.com article, click here.