We've been meandering down a path of energy insecurity ever since the Carter-era gas lines.
As a nation, we use 19.14 million barrels of oil every day. We produce just 7.51 million barrels per day (mbd).
We are 61% energy dependent. This isn't opinion; this is a fact taken from the most recent data right on the U.S. Energy Information Administration website.
The rest comes mainly from three countries:
Canada, 2.53 million barrels per day
Mexico, 1.15 million barrels per day
Saudi Arabia, 1.08 million barrels per day
No other country gives us more than a million barrels per day.
Nigeria and Venezuela used to, but we now get 983 mbd and 912 mbd from them, respectively, as Peak Oil's grip takes hold.
The question has always been: How do we cut our 61% (11.63 million barrels per day!) dependence on foreign oil when we've never produced more than the 9.63 million barrels per day we generated at our peak in 1970?
That same EIA has forecast a boom in shale production will lead to a 20% increase in oil production and a 29% increase in natural gas production.
Concerning natural gas specifically, we produced 21.65 trillion cubic feet (tcf) in 2010. We're expected to produce 27.9 trillion cubic feet in 2035.
But here's the thing...
The United States only used 24.64 trillion cubic feet in 2010, which means we're about to go from a natural gas importer to a natural gas exporter.
Much of it will be natural gas liquids, or LNG.
The switch is expected to happen in 2016 with an export capacity of 1.1 billion cubic feet per day, rising to 2.2 billion cubic feet per day by 2019.
And that has a lot of companies and investors very excited right now.
As Reuters recently noted:
The search for higher-value energy resources has prompted companies such as Chesapeake and Halliburton to shift drilling from "dry gas" fields to those that are "liquids-rich," meaning they contain oil or natural gas liquids such as propane, butane or ethane, whose prices are based on those of crude oil.
Even foreign companies are rushing in...
Shale gas actually has support from both sides of the aisle.
We know where the Drill, Baby, Drill crowd stands.
But look what the Democratic White House had to say at the beginning of 2012, as part of a report called, Investing in America: Building and Economy that Lasts:
Only a few years ago, fears of a looming natural gas shortage led to significant investments in the rapid construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) port facilities that could enable the United States to import vast quantities of natural gas. Projections from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) as recently as 2005 suggested expanding natural gas imports for decades. Without the prospect for adequate domestic supplies of natural gas at reasonable prices, companies increasingly pointed to overseas operations where they could access large quantities of low-cost natural gas.
Since the mid-2000s, however, the discovery of new natural gas reserves, such as the Marcellus Shale, and the development of hydraulic fracturing techniques to extract natural gas from these reserves has led to rapidly growing domestic production and relatively low domestic prices for households and downstream industrial users. The potential benefits to the U.S. economy are substantial.
An abundant local supply will translate into relatively low costs for the industries that use natural gas as an input. Expansion in these industries, including industrial chemicals and fertilizers, will boost investment and exports in the coming years, generating new jobs. In the longer run, the scale of America’s natural gas endowment appears to be sufficiently large that exports of natural gas to other major markets could be economically viable.
Twenty Years of Uses
The above snippet mentions a few of the potential uses for our newfound gas wealth, namely lower costs for industries like industrial chemicals and fertilizers.
But there's much more than that...
You'll also enjoy lower home energy costs.
Already this year, the price of natural gas has fallen below $2.50 per million British Thermal Units (MMBtu), a price we haven't see in more than a decade.
That will translate to your bottom line — and the bottom lines of companies that use large amounts of it.
Vallourec (PK: VLOWY), a French maker of oil and gas drilling supplies, is investing $650 million in an Ohio steel mill that will produce pipes for fracturing... and create 350 jobs.
Companies like Westport (NASDAQ: WPRT) are hard at work making car engines that run on natural gas. Cummins is working with them on natural gas-powered big rigs.
Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ: CLNE) is building the network of fueling stations that would keep those cars and trucks topped off.
Cheniere (NYSE: LNG) has signed three 20-year contracts worth $28 billion to ship LNG to Britain, Spain, and India.
Shell (NYSE: RDS-A) has said it will build a “world-scale” natural gas processing plant in Ohio, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia.
It's all part of revived natural gas market that grew by 63% in 2011 to $31 billion — and that will grow another 19% this year to $37 billion.
Over $30 billion of that will be in the United States, where 19,000 new wells will be fracked this year, up from 16,000 last year — creating tens of thousands of jobs along the way.