Evidently, President Obama is not in complete thrall to environmentalists. He has said that he supports “fracking,” the technique of pumping in liquid to fracture geological formations that is unlocking vast quantities of natural gas. [Read more…]
The BBC reports that new information about American oil and gas supplies, thanks to our vast shale deposits and the new ability to extract energy from them, will shake up the world’s economy.
A steeper-than-expected rise in US shale oil reserves is about to change the global balance of power between new and existing producers, a report says. [Read more…]
You want some good economic news? Technology to extract natural gas from shale formations has created an abundance of cheap energy that is bringing back manufacturing, attracting overseas investment, and solving our energy problems. From Washington Post journalist Steven Mufson
The shale gas revolution is firing up an old-fashioned American industrial revival, breathing life into businesses such as petrochemicals and glass, steel and toys.
Methanex Corp., which closed its last U.S. chemical plant in 1999, is spending more than half a billion dollars to dismantle a methanol plant in Chile and move it to the parish.
Nearby, a petrochemical company, Williams, is spending $400 million to expand an ethylene plant. And on Nov. 1, CF Industries unveiled a $2.1 billion expansion of its nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing complex, aiming to displace imports that now make up half of U.S. nitrogen fertilizer sales.
These companies all rely heavily on natural gas. And across the country, companies like them are crediting the sudden abundance of cheap natural gas for revving up their U.S. operations. Thanks to new applications of drilling technology to unlock natural gas trapped in shale rock, the nation’s output has surged and energy experts almost unanimously forecast that prices will remain low or moderate for a generation. The International Energy Agency says that by 2015, the United States will overtake Russia as the world’s biggest gas producer.
The rest of the article gives more details of what the natural gas boom is doing for the economy. Of course, some people want to stop it.
David Ignatius brings up what could be heralds of good economic prospects ahead. (Or is it just a pipe dream?)
First, the case that America is entering a new era of energy security: My expert here is Robin West, a friend who is chairman of PFC Energy, a Washington-based advisory group. He argues in a series of recent reports to clients that, because of the rapid expansion of oil and gas production from shale, America is likely to become by 2020 the world’s No. 1 producer of oil, gas and biofuels — eclipsing even the energy superpowers, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
West explains that the natural-gas boom will mean a dramatic change in energy imports and, thus, the security of U.S. energy supplies. He forecasts that combined imports of oil and natural gas will fall from about 52 percent of total demand in 2010 to 22 percent by 2020. The totals are even more impressive if supplies from Canada are included.
“This is the energy equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down,” contends West. “Just as the trauma of the Cold War ended in Berlin, so the trauma of the 1973 oil embargo is ending now.” The geopolitical implications of this change are striking: “We will no longer rely on the Middle East, or compete with such nations as China or India for resources.”
Energy security would be one building block of a new prosperity. The other would be the revival of U.S. manufacturing and other industries. This would be driven in part by the low cost of electricity in the United States, which West forecasts will be relatively flat through the rest of this decade, and one-half to one-third that of economic competitors such as Spain, France or Germany.
The coming manufacturing recovery is the subject of several studies by the Boston Consulting Group. I’ll focus here on the most recent one, “U.S. Manufacturing Nears the Tipping Point,” which appeared in March.
What’s happening, according to BCG, is a “reshoring” back to America of manufacturing that previously migrated offshore, especially to China. The analysts estimate that by 2015, China’s cost advantage will have shrunk to the point that many manufacturers will prefer to open plants in the United States. In the vast manufacturing region surrounding Shanghai, total compensation packages will be about 25 percent of those for comparable workers in low-cost U.S. manufacturing states. But given higher American productivity, effective labor costs will be about 60 percent of those in America — not low enough to compensate U.S. manufacturers for the risks and volatility of operating in China.
In about five years, argue the BCG economists, the cost-risk balance will reach an inflection point in seven key industries where manufacturers had been moving to China: computers and electronics, appliances and electrical equipment, machinery, furniture, fabricated metals, plastics and rubber, and transportation goods. The industries together amounted to a nearly $2 trillion market in the United States in 2010, with China producing about $200 billion of that total.
As manufacturers in these “tipping point” industries move back to America, BCG estimates, the U.S. economy will add $80 billion to $120 billion in annual output, and 2 million to 3 million new jobs, in direct manufacturing and spin-off employment. To complete this rosy picture, the analysts forecast that in about five years, U.S. exports will increase by at least $65 billion annually.
If, that is, the government doesn’t do what many environmentalists are calling for, banning fracking as well as other new technologies, blocking new pipelines, and preventing drilling where new reserves have been discovered. And if the government does not stand in the way of building of new plants and factories
New technology is unlocking vast amounts of natural gas in the United States, enough to have a huge economic impact. Yes, it involves “fracking,” the controversial practice of pumping chemical-laced water into shale deposits, but improvements in that technique are starting to satisfy all but the most zealous environmentalists. I’m glad to see companies from my native Oklahoma are leading the way. Businessweek has a big story on the topic with the deck below the headline, “Unlocking vast reserves of shale gas could solve the energy crisis, the jobs crisis, and the deficit.”
“The United States,” [energy company CEO Aubrey] McClendon boasts, “has the capacity to become the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”
A tall man who wears his wavy silver hair long by CEO standards, McClendon, 52, exudes the confidence of someone who’s certain he’s seen the future. Exploitation of newly accessible supplies of gas embedded in layers of what’s known as shale rock, he predicts, will help revive domestic manufacturing and change the terms of debate about global warming. “It’s a new industrial renaissance,” he says. . . .
Encouraged by the availability of inexpensive and cleaner domestic gas, some electric utilities are replacing their coal-burning capacity with gas-fired units. Energy-intensive manufacturers of chemicals, plastics, and steel are beginning to bring home operations that they exported years ago. “We believe natural gas must be part of any discussion on strengthening our country’s long-term economic health,” Mulva said in Detroit. “It should also be part of any discussion on improving energy security, protecting the environment, and, yes, creating jobs.”
On the economic potential of the nascent shale revolution, even some career environmentalists sound impressed, if cautious. “This thing is a potential game-changer,” says Fred Krupp, president of the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Shale production in the U.S. has increased from practically nothing in 2000 to more than 13 billion cubic feet per day, or about 30 percent of the country’s natural gas supply. That proportion is heading toward 50 percent in coming years. The U.S. passed Russia in 2009 to become the world’s largest producer of natural gas. An Energy Dept. advisory panel on which Krupp sits estimated in August that more than 200,000 jobs, both direct and indirect, “have been created over the last several years by the development of domestic production of shale gas.” At a moment of 9.1 percent unemployment nationally, additional decently paid work is just one potential benefit. “Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, emits less in the way of greenhouse gases, and avoids mercury and other pollutants from coal,” Krupp points out. “So this could be win-win, if—and this is a big ‘if’—we do it the right way.”