Natural gas can substantially increase the energy independence of the US, and it remains an important transition fuel with its much lower carbon footprint. Oil produces 28% more carbon, and coal produces 43% more carbon than natural gas. But exploitation of our huge natural gas reserves also has the potential to jump-start the economy with the expansion of jobs directly and indirectly.
The extent of the underlying shale beds in the US is considerable. With 70% of our oil imported, the U.S. represents a major source of natural gas with more than a 100+ year supply. Exxon/Mobil in 2010 estimated that the use of natural gas for power-generation would more than double in North America between 2005 and 2030. Shale beds are extensive, and they go well beyond the much-talked-about Marcellus Shale beds. News of Exxon/Mobil’s moves into Ohio and the Utica Shale bed located there only underscore the vast potential for the expansion of available natural gas from other parts of the US. Future natural gas potential exists in at least 14 states, extending from New York southwestward through Alabama and Mississippi and westward through Kansas Oklahoma and Texas to the Rocky Mountain states from Montana southward through New Mexico.
The job-expansion potential of the natural gas industry is usually described in terms of the growth in employees necessary for extracting the natural gas, but the growth potential for jobs goes well beyond the extraction process, the equipment-related manufacturing industry, the transportation industry, and the distribution network. Calvin Dooley, President of the American Chemistry Council, testified before the House Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures on September 22 that ethane alone has the potential for producing nearly 400,000 new jobs in the chemical sector and supplier-related industries. He went on to estimate that businesses that use ethane-based chemicals like plastic products could add 80,000 new jobs. Ethane typically represents only 13% of unprocessed natural gas.
I know that there is little optimism about the economy and its potential for job growth. The unemployed struggle as we are on-the-watch for further fall-out from uncertainty in Europe, the lack of consumer confidence and the reluctance of many businesses to invest in capital expansion and new jobs. But I am optimistic about the potential that the natural gas industry has for US job growth. Unleashing its potential with measured regulation that permits the exploitation of shale gas is a key to economic recovery and job growth.