I guess it was around 2001 or 2002. We were engaged in a heated discussion on how huge American liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports might turn out to be in the process of forecasting global LNG demand for 2010. No one doubted at the time that the United States would grow into a major importer and lead world demand for LNG. Contrary to our speculation, though, the US is likely to become an LNG exporter in the not-too-distant future--a fact of profound strategic significance for gas consumers in Japan that we could hardly imagine back then.The extraction of shale gas began in the 1990s and saw rapid technological development from around 2000. However, until recently, breaking up shale formations had remained a peripheral business hardly capable of attracting massive capital investment. It was only around 2006 that shale gas began gaining recognition for its abundant reserves and cost-competitiveness compared with conventional sources of natural gas. Since then, the production of shale gas has dramatically increased along with the development of technologies. It is now estimated that shale gas will outpace conventional gas to make up more than half of natural gas production in the US in 2018.Expected US LNG exports on the back of massive shale gas reserves are drawing increasing attention in Japan, which has been forced to reconsider its energy policy since the great earthquake and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11 last year. Japan seems almost certain to reduce its reliance on nuclear energy, but to what extent and at what pace remain unclear….