Natural gas catching fire

by Jeremy Alford

The bipartisan Congressional Natural Gas Caucus is well-timed, as the Senate is giving more attention to natural gas in its climate-change legislation. A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers has created a new caucus that’s dedicated solely to advocating and promoting the use of domestic natural gas. The Congressional Natural Gas Caucus is the first association of its kind and includes two members from Louisiana: Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans.

Landrieu will serve as the caucus’ first co-chair, alongside Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. She says the post is an important one, especially since the production of natural gas can directly contribute to producing jobs in Louisiana. “A reliable and affordable supply of U.S. energy has profound impacts on every sector of our economy and is the backbone of the U.S. employment base,” Landrieu says. “Natural gas is a clean burning, low-carbon fuel that is predominantly produced here at home.”

Among other roles, Landrieu says the caucus would serve to investigate and debate the economic and national security implications of the newfound abundance of natural gas in the U.S. That charge, too, has implications for the Bayou State — the Haynesville Shale in north Louisiana is positioned to become the nation’s top-producing natural gas field within the next six years.

The formation of the caucus also shows that members of Congress want to usher in a greater independence when it comes to energy needs, according to a prepared statement from T. Boone Pickens, a billionaire businessman and natural gas advocate. “We’ve got to get off foreign oil, and the only immediately available transportation fuel that can replace it is natural gas,” Pickens says.

The caucus’ timing couldn’t be better, especially since the Senate is giving more attention to natural gas in its climate-change legislation, which is backed by President Barack Obama and more widely known as the cap-and-trade bill. The legislation, authored by Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California, includes some financial incentives for natural gas-fired electricity. If adopted, the cap-and-trade is also expected to increase demand for natural gas.

Natural Gas Supply Association CEO R. Skip Horvath says that’s all the more reason for a new caucus to be formed and for natural gas to take on more spotlight in the national media and Washington policy debates. “By conservative estimates, we have at least another century’s worth of supply,” Horvath says. “Natural gas is the key to our country’s energy future.”

Natural gas is produced in 33 states and relied upon as an energy source in many others. In fact, over 20 percent of the electricity in the U.S. is generated by natural gas. Natural gas is also an important feedstock in chemical and fertilizer production; is used to eliminate soot in clean diesel fuel; and used as a raw material that goes into lightweight cars, wind power blades, solar panels and energy-efficient materials.

In 2008, nearly 90 percent of the natural gas consumed in this country came from domestic U.S. supplies. Thanks to technological advances, the U.S. now has triple the amount of natural gas than was estimated in 1966 and 40 percent more than believed just a couple of years ago.

Approximately 1.3 million people are employed directly by the companies that drill, ship and supply natural gas to American consumers, with another 2.7 million Americans employed in supporting positions indirectly created by the development of America’s domestic energy supplies. The combined economic impact of natural gas development, exploration, production and usage to the U.S. economy in 2008 was $385.5 billion