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A proposed energy plan working its way through Congress could change the energy landscape in America.
An energy stimulus
In April, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill, the NAT GAS Act, to provide substantial tax credits to encourage the use of America's vast natural gas reserves as a transportation fuel.
The bill is currently stuck in committee, a place where most bills go to die. However, the NAT GAS Act has a good chance to leap over this legislative hurdle and go to the floor for a vote, where it has overwhelming support.
The committees currently reviewing the NAT GAS Act are stacked with lawmakers who support the legislation. In fact, some of the lead co-sponsors of the bill hold high-ranking positions in these committees.
President Barack Obama has also expressed support for the bill and recently appointed a panel to ease environmental concerns over the process of extracting natural gas. This further indicates his intention of using the vast resource to combat high oil prices.
The recent activity in the private sector is cause for optimism as well.
Nat gas believers
General Electric (NYSE: GE ) is a prime example. GE recently acquired Dresser Industries, a company that manufacturers CNG fuel dispensers. If the U.S. shifts to natural gas, look for GE to provide the pumps.
And look for Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) to provide some of the stations. Chesapeake is planning to increase the availability of natural gas fueling infrastructure through agreements with gas station chains in the 17 states in which the company operates. The company has agreed to convert its entire fleet to natural gas provided gas stations install the natural gas pumps.
Essentially, Chesapeake is making a market for the natural gas it produces by agreeing to buy the natural gas it sells. And the strategy is working, as many other companies are converting their fleets to run on natural gas as the number of CNG stations increases. This activity will further accelerate in a favorable legislative environment.
And as more companies turn to natural gas to fuel their fleets, Fuel System Solutions (Nasdaq: FSYS ) will provide the necessary conversion equipment. Through multiple acquisitions over the past year, Fuel Systems Solutions is preparing to capitalize on legislation favoring the natural gas transportation industry.
The company still has an impressive war chest, so more acquisitions might be in the offing. However, management remains evasive with regard to the company's considerable cash position.
Many car manufacturers are planning to offer natural gas vehicles in the United States. Currently, Honda (NYSE: HMC ) is the only car manufacturer in the United States that offers a natural gas vehicle to the public, but competition is on the way as sales of the natural gas Civic have almost tripled so far this year.
Fiat, formerly known to Americans as Fix It Again Tony, has cleaned up its act and the company plans to re-enter the U.S. market with clean-burning natural gas vehicles. Fiat, which owns Chrysler, views natural gas as a natural fit for trucks like its Dodge Ram.
General Motors (NYSE: GM ) sees natural gas vehicles as a perfect fit for company and government fleets. The automaker is expanding its offering of CNG vehicles as a response to increasing demand from fleet customers.
Ford (NYSE: F ) is looking to penetrate the fleet market as well. The company unveiled the Transit Connect Taxi at last year's Chicago Auto Show. The car can be easily retrofitted to run on natural gas.
Big Oil recognizes the potential of natural gas as evidenced by its recent natural gas spending spree. Shell, Exxon (NYSE: XOM ) , and Chevron have all acquired natural gas producers. In fact, Exxon is such a believer in the energy source that the company now holds more in natural gas than oil reserves.
The bottom line
All signs point to natural gas. Congress is prepared to act, and many companies already have. Investors who believe in the future of natural gas should act as well.