Natural gas and the state of our union

When President Obama first took the oath of office in January of 2009, few could have predicted just how profoundly America’s vast energy resources would figure into his eight years in office. But the shale energy revolution, in both natural gas and oil, will be inextricably and positively linked to this time period.

Since 2009, U.S. production of shale gas has tripled, and we are now the world’s largest natural gas producer. In fact, as the president himself notes, by the time he leaves office, the U.S. is projected to be a net LNG exporter. This is a far cry from the long-term dependency on natural gas imports projected less than a decade ago.

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Greater use of this abundant, affordable, clean and domestic resource has reduced air pollution and brought carbon emissions to their lowest point since the 1990s, all while creating good paying jobs in a broad range of industries and boosting our economy. Some criticize the president for not doing enough on climate issues while others believe he’s too aggressive. Regardless of your view, however, the good news is that natural gas will be a foundation fuel in our economy for decades to come, bringing with it both environmental and economic benefits.

My message to the president, therefore, as he prepares to deliver his State of the Union address: Stay the course on American energy.

Unconventional natural gas production will support 1.4 million jobs in 2015.

Meanwhile, natural gas is forecast to be the fuel of choice for 65 percent of new power plant additions through 2040 while driving a U.S. manufacturing resurgence.

The American Chemistry Council, for example, has identified 124 investment projects worth $83 billion since 2010 in which U.S. production is expanding due to abundant, affordable natural gas.

Investments driven by this prolific natural gas supply also will help make possible President Obama’s vision of “rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class, and reversing the trend toward economic bifurcation in this society.”

The top 10 states in shale gas production enjoy higher than average job growth— around 8 percent annually, compared to 1.6 percent nationwide. Jobs in and around our industry offer opportunities across the board—from those with a high-school diploma, to those with advanced engineering degrees. And energy from shale is lifting the disposable income of the average U.S. household by $1,200 a year through affordable electricity and heat, as well as lower cost manufactured goods.

Exports of LNG also will help the president meet his goal of doubling American exports by 2015, by reducing our trade deficit by $164 billion in 2020, according to IHS Global Insight. But if we’re unable to approve the construction of export facilities soon, our nation may lose out to international competitors.

Tax policy is also critical. While comprehensive tax reform is facing long odds this year, the president has consistently proposed changes in the tax code that would blunt the ability of natural gas producers to continue their amazing string of technological innovation that is driving our energy revolution. We continue to believe this would be the wrong approach.

President Obama recently commented that presidents are “part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right." As historians contemplate their first drafts on the Obama presidency, there will no doubt be a bolded footnote on energy.

Like all presidents, President Obama has faced many challenges. He also, however, was fortunate to experience the economic and environmental windfall of the shale gas revolution. Whether and how he chooses to leverage this plot twist in his final two years remains to be written, but the groundwork has been laid for a great American energy story.

Durbin is president and chief executive officer of America’s Natural Gas Alliance