MADetail

Advanced technology is giving America the opportunity to be energy independent.


The surge in natural gas production is luring key industries to the United States. Advancements in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have lowered natural gas prices to a fraction of those in other countries, making the U.S. an appealing place to produce goods.

Natural gas costs $3.55 per million British thermal units in the U.S. compared to Japan, where it cost $16. It can be said that North America holds some of the world's cheapest energy within reach. After decades of outsourcing the production of goods, the availability of cheap natural gas and increasingly competitive labor costs have attracted companies in the petrochemicals, steel, fertilizer and fuel industries. With a plentiful domestic supply expected to continue, the edge should remain in North America for decades.

"It isn't just the huge reserves we have underground, said Tim Parker, manager of T. Rowe Price's natural resource stock portfolios. "No one else has our predictable cocktail infrastructure already in place, know-how, a relative abundance of water, and a favorable royalty regime that gives landowners a stake in the exploration game."

The U.S. has discovered so much more energy than it thought it had that some now talk about the possibility for North American energy independence. The reason? Advances in technology such as fracking, horizontal drilling and other improvements, which have increased natural gas production by 27 percent in just four years, have made the U.S. number one in gas -- with oil on its way.

"We could make OPEC ‘NOPEC’ if we really put our minds to it," says Charles Drevna of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. "We're talking decades, if not into the 100s of years, of supply in North America."

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., of the House Natural Resources Committee says, "It's amazing the amount of energy in North America. When you include our Canadian and Mexican neighbors, we have so many resources that it's mind boggling."

And Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., of House Energy and Commerce Committee adds, "We have the unique opportunity at this particular time in our nation's history to really be energy independent."

Jack Gerard, president of oil industry's American Petroleum Institute says, "It's very realistic that we could be energy secure as a nation. ... It's been estimated by the Energy Information Agency that we could be the No. 1 oil producer in the world by 2020, surpassing Saudi Arabia. So this is a big deal. It's a game-changing opportunity, and it's of historic proportions."

Even those who share the administration's desire to reduce the reliance on petrochemicals acknowledge government projections that the U.S. will produce one third more of its own oil by 2020. One analyst, however, says self reliance must include alternatives, such as wind, solar and more.

"We can reduce our dependence on foreign oil by shifting to electric vehicles and investing in public transportation, as well as having much more efficient cars, which are already under way," Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress said.

Either way, analysts say, being more energy sufficient could bring manufacturers back to the U.S., because they'd have a cheap and reliable source of energy.

"The primary driver right now the manufacturing industry is energy costs," Gerard said. "When you look at those potential opportunities to build new chemical plants, to expand steel capacity, bring home a lot of those jobs that left over the past decade, the primary driver is the cost of energy."

The price of natural gas has dropped from $13 to $3, giving the U.S. a huge competitive advantage. In fact, the U.S. is producing so much natural gas, there's talk of actually exporting it, meaning hundreds of billions usually sent overseas to buy energy would instead stay here at home to create jobs and boost the American economy.