Natural Gas: America's Medium-Term Energy Solution

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Natural Gas: America

It seems the only thing as cyclical as rising and falling gas prices is America’s interest in alternatives that would free us from our dependence on energy sources beyond our country’s control.  As soon as prices soar, it’s all we can talk about.  Then, after prices drop, complacency returns.  It happened in 1973, 1979, 1990, and 2008. 

These spikes in oil prices should have been sufficient to motivate us to eliminate our reliance on an imported commodity that is so central to our economy. 

Clearly, we need to drill domestically for oil.  New figures just released by the Congressional Research Service show that over the long term there is plenty of domestic petroleum to meet all our needs at $100 per barrel.  But, with roughly half of our petroleum needs currently being satisfied by imports, this is a gap we can’t expect to close in the next 5 or even 10 years. 

Despite pie-in-the-sky studies, the best minds in the energy field don’t foresee alternatives like wind and solar contributing more than 8 percent of our energy supply within the next 25 years.  Meanwhile, industries to produce biofuels like cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel are still in the experimental stages. 

That leaves only one mature energy technology that can come online quickly at the right scale:  natural gas.  Why natural gas?  It has many advantages:  It is abundant, domestic, price-competitive, proven, and clean. 

In the short term, abundance is probably its most appealing characteristic.  The Potential Gas Committee estimates the U.S. recoverable natural gas reserves at 1,451 trillion cubic feet.  That translates into nearly a 100-year supply at current usage rates.1  According to Investor’s Business Daily, that makes the U.S. “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”2

As the Trends editors highlighted in February 2010, new natural gas discoveries in the Appalachian Basin alone could provide enough fuel to power the United States and meet all of its energy needs for decades.  Similar shale deposits, loaded with natural gas, have been discovered in Texas, Louisiana, Montana, and North Dakota.

According to The Potential Gas Committee, the current reserves deemed “recoverable” represent only 68 percent of the total gas reserves.3  With the advance of technology, the recoverable percent is bound to increase.  In fact, developments over the past five years in extracting natural gas from shale have increased those recoverable reserves 500%.

In addition to being extremely abundant, the fact that this natural gas is domestic makes it an attractive alternative to imported petroleum for three key reasons:

  • First, it will create jobs for Americans...

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