Frequent readers of this blog will recall that we often bemoan the way consumers are left paying the price for a national energy policy that relies too strongly on oil imports while failing to develop much of the oil available right here at home. This week, as gasoline prices have spiked to a two-year-high, we want to turn our attention to the natural gas market, where prices remain, by contrast, rather stable.
Natural gas prices peaked above $13 per thousand cubic feet in 2008, but over the past year they have averaged just $4.38. Why is the price of crude oil more volatile than natural gas? One key reason is that the domestic natural gas industry is booming. This new report, from Bipartisan Policy Center and American Clean Skies Foundation, notes that “in a few short years, technology advances combined with new shale discoveries have more than tripled estimates of the nation’s economically recoverable natural gas resources.” Indeed, today the U.S. is the world’s number one natural gas producer.
It can be hard to reconcile those statistics with the fact that, not that long ago, natural gas supplies in the U.S. were believed to be pretty limited, and many in the United States were preparing to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) to meet domestic needs. The recent growth in the country’s natural gas sector is due largely to the breakthroughs that have enabled the production of more natural gas from shale rock. However, the growth will not be sustained unless we continue to support production and maintain the infrastructure to store and transport these growing resources, which are vital for electricity generation, heating, manufacturing – including fertilizer and chemical products – and potential increased use in transportation. The health of this industry will require continued vigilance to impress upon lawmakers the importance of domestically produced energy.
But for the moment at least, the domestic natural gas sector is a model of effective use of our national energy resources. The bulk of the natural gas we consume in the U.S. is produced here at home, and growing production has supported stable prices. As for the crude oil used to produce gasoline, the story is different. High imports have contributed to higher prices and greater volatility. This, despite the fact that the United States also has a wealth of oil reserves and the technology to develop them.