Natural Gas Poised To Be Future Fuel For North America

By Monika Gonda, Program Director, North America Gas, The Energy Exchange

In shifting from a declining to an abundant resource through the recently much discussed and debated shale gas “boom,” natural gas is becoming increasingly commercially accessible and has the potential to provide the market with a sustainable, domestic fuel supply for many years to come.

New advancements in technology continue to drive production costs down while minimizing environmental impact and are enabling the North American market to move away from foreign oil and towards a cleaner energy future.

With this shift in market dynamics, natural gas proposes to be the answer for the future of our domestic energy supply and a move away from foreign oil dependency as well as towards a cleaner way of energy production.

Two of the critical remaining issues facing the industry revolve around securing the political buy-in necessary to boost the role of natural gas in the energy mix and environmental considerations. Utilities are embracing natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal and an essential partner to renewable energy development.

The transport industry increasingly looks to natural gas as a way to reduce CO2 emissions and boost the domestic economy. Natural gas proposes to be the ideal energy source and alternative to “dirty” coal and oil.

However, it appears the answer isn’t entirely straightforward. An article in the New York Times a few months ago has prompted heated debates over the effects of hydraulic fracturing, drinking water impacts and potential risks. It is a debate that is ongoing.

If we turn our attention to the international stage, the “shale gas boom” also prompts the question of where all the gas will go. LNG export could not only raise domestic natural gas prices, but simultaneously contribute to global energy diversification and increasing U.S. market share on the global energy stage.  But, have we turned the page from a gas importer to an exporting country? Do we need to question potential export as opposed to using our valuable domestic resource purely for domestic demand? Experts’ opinions differ considerably.

Will North America become energy independent? Does natural gas have the potential to truly become the fuel of the future? What are the next steps and hurdles in awarding LNG export licenses? Will the utilities and transportation sectors embrace the benefits of natural gas?

What is clear is that the natural gas industry lacks a unified industry voice. Robert A. Hefner III, an industry thought leader and natural gas advocate, owner and founder of GHK Company, recently pointed out in an interview I conducted with him that “it has got to be the entire natural gas industry that must finally come together and be sold on the development and the advantages of the transition of America to natural gas.”

In another interview, Mitchell W. Pratt, COO of Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a company founded by leading gas advocate and visionary T. Boone Pickens, echoed this opinion saying, “Natural gas -- being cleaner, cheaper,