November statistics show something surprising: The United States is a net exporter of natural gas. The nation’s 7.4 billion cubic feet a day in exports last month slightly exceeded an average of 7 billion cubic feet per day in imports.
That’s significant for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that the last time the country was a net exporter of natural gas was back in 1957.
On top of that, it wasn’t too long ago that the whole idea of the U.S. as a net exporter of natural gas would have struck everyone as impossible.
In the early to mid-2000s, policymakers worried about looming natural gas shortages. Our energy policy discussions centered on how quickly government and industry could work to permit and build numerous import terminals to bring in liquefied natural gas from abroad.
What a difference a few short years can make. The energy renaissance that started in 2008, brought on by the innovative combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, has changed all that talk of shortage and scarcity. We are now living in an era of domestic energy abundance, which has upended markets while delivering a number of benefits.
It has sparked a manufacturing renaissance along the Gulf Coast, for instance, resulting in significant job creation and economic development.
Expansions under way at ExxonMobil petrochemical facilities along the Gulf Coast – which I have written about before – could create more than 28,000 temporary construction jobs and more than 1,200 permanent jobs. Other companies are making similar investments.
As the Obama administration recently noted, “U.S.-based manufacturers currently enjoy a competitive advantage from affordable natural gas.”
Moreover, abundant new supplies of natural gas – which emits less carbon than coal when used to generate electricity – have also helped reduce overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as utilities switched fuels in their power plants. Ramping up U.S. exports of natural gas could deliver similar environmental benefits to other regions and help reduce emissions globally.
Finally, lessening our dependence on energy imports strengthens America’s energy and economic security.
In Forbes last week, energy expert David Blackmon highlighted the “comparatively quiet, ongoing transition of the U.S. into one of the world’s great natural gas exporting nations.” Definitely worth a read.