The Real Stimulus: Low-Cost Natural Gas – by Daniel Yergin (Wall Street Journal – October 22, 2012)

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Mr. Yergin, vice chairman of IHS, a global market information and analytics company, is author of “The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World” (Penguin, new edition, 2012).

The impact of the U.S. energy revolution is only beginning. It is already providing a foundation for a domestic renaissance in manufacturing.

An unconventional oil and gas revolution is under way in the United States, but its full ramifications are only beginning to be understood. The basic facts are clear enough. Half a decade ago, it was assumed that the U.S. would become a large importer of liquefied natural gas; now the domestic natural gas market is oversupplied, thanks to the ability to produce shale gas through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies.

Shale gas alone is now 10% of the overall U.S. energy supply. And similar technologies to recover so-called tight oil trapped in rock formations are largely responsible for boosting U.S. oil production by 25% since 2008—the highest growth in oil output of any country in the world over that time period.

So far more than 1.7 million jobs are the result, according to a report titled “America’s New Energy Future,” released Tuesday by my research firm, IHS. These jobs include people working on rigs in Pennsylvania or North Dakota, manufacturing equipment in Ohio or Illinois, and providing information-technology services in California or legal services to royalty owners nationwide. The number of jobs could rise to three million by 2020. The energy revolution will add an estimated $62 billion to federal and state revenues this year.

But the energy revolution is having other effects that get less attention. The balance of payments is one. The increase in domestic oil production over the past five years will reduce our oil-import bill this year by about $75 billion. The growth of shale gas will save the U.S. from spending $100 billion a year on imported LNG, which was the likely prospect five years ago.

There is also a geopolitical dimension. The increase in U.S. oil production since 2008 is equivalent to almost 80% of what was Iran’s export level before the imposition of sanctions on the Tehran regime. Without the additional oil coming from the surge in U.S. oil output, the Iranian oil sanctions could not have worked as well as they have.

Domestically, growing natural gas supplies provide a foundation for a manufacturing renaissance, at least for industries for which energy is an important feedstock or where energy costs are significant. Chemical companies have been leaving the U.S. for years in the search for lower-cost countries in which to operate. Now they are planning to invest billions of dollars in new factories in this country because of inexpensive and relatively stable natural gas prices. The price of natural gas, which averaged $2.66 per thousand cubic feet in the first nine months of this year, is less than half of what it was five years ago.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Wall Street Journal website: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444734804578062331199029850.html

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