NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 1, 2009

A massive natural-gas discovery in northern Louisiana heralds a big shift in the nation's energy landscape.  After an era of declining production, the United States is now swimming in natural gas, says the Wall Street Journal.

  • Even conservative estimates suggest the Louisiana discovery -- known as the Haynesville Shale, for the dense rock formation that contains the gas -- could hold some 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
  • That's the equivalent of 33 billion barrels of oil, or 18 years' worth of current U.S. oil production; some industry executives think the field could be several times that size.
  • Huge new fields also have been found in Texas, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. One industry-backed study estimates the United States has more than 2,200 trillion cubic feet of gas waiting to be pumped, enough to satisfy nearly 100 years of current U.S. natural-gas demand.

The discoveries have spurred energy experts and policy makers to start looking to natural gas in their pursuit of a wide range of goals: easing the impact of energy-price spikes, reducing dependence on foreign oil, lowering "greenhouse gas" emissions and speeding the transition to renewable fuels.

A climate-change bill being pushed by President Barack Obama could boost reliance on natural gas.  The bill, which could emerge from the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May, is expected to set aggressive targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent man-made greenhouse gas.

Meeting such goals would require quickly moving away from coal-fired power plants, which account for substantial carbon emissions.  President Obama wants the United States to rely more on renewable energy such as wind and solar power, but those technologies aren't ready to shoulder more than a fraction of the nation's energy burden. Advocates for natural gas argue that the fuel, which is cleaner than coal, would be a logical quick fix.  In addition, billionaire energy investor T. Boone Pickens has been touting natural gas as an alternative to gasoline and diesel for cars and trucks.

Source: Ben Casselman, "U.S. Gas Fields Go From Bust to Boom," Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2009.

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