Advances in energy extraction technology and vast reserves of shale gas in the U.S. have the potential to further boost this nation's economic prospects -- if there is the political will to ease restrictions on natural gas exports.
The arguments in favor of doing so are substantial.
The advent of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing -- also known as fracking -- have led to domestic shale gas and oil production increases of 50 percent annually since 2007. This acceleration could create as many as 1.7 million jobs by 2020, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, a consulting firm.
Exports of natural gas -- liquefied for transport -- could give the economy a $47 billion boost by 2020, according to report from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The bottom line, the department says, is that the broader upside of significantly increasing natural gas exports dwarfs the possible drawbacks for industry and consumers, who could see a modest increase in energy costs.
The Obama administration so far has given permits to three terminal projects, according to a story last month in The New York Times. Two of them are in Louisiana and one is in Texas. Meanwhile, about 15 other proposed projects are in line for regulatory approval.
The big opposition to easing tight controls on natural gas exports comes from manufacturing interests, particularly Dow Chemical Company, which has enjoyed cheap energy costs due to the recent boom in domestic production.
While we wouldn't expect businesses to lobby against their own interests, those must be balanced against a broader economic and political good.
The U.S., with natural gas that is currently selling for a fraction of what it goes for in Europe and Asia, could also derive political power from this economic asset. And robust exports also could narrow the U.S. trade deficit.
Abundant domestic natural gas reserves have the potential to revive the nation's groggy economy if policy makers will open the doors to exports and let the market work.
--The Denver Post, Sept. 7