Is This the Most Important Energy Trend of the Next Century?

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) just reported that for the 18th consecutive month, the U.S. is the world's leading producer of oil and natural gas liquids in the world -- surpassing Saudi Arabia by 2 million barrels/day, the largest gap ever recorded. 

However, as wonderful as American oil dominance is for the world, perhaps a more important trend is America's boom of natural gas and the promise of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. 

America's gas production is on fire
The U.S. is the world's leading producer of natural gas, a fact fueled by amazing production growth from shale formations such as the Utica and Marcellus shale. 

These amazing figures indicate that the Marcellus shale is now the fourth-largest natural gas producer in the world, surpassing Qatar, Canada and it will soon surpass the entire European continent. This is because, according to analyst firm ICF International, production from the Marcellus/Utica shale is set to increase 127% by 2035.

Thanks to these two formations, the EIA estimates U.S. gas production will continue to climb for decades.

The rise of LNG exports 
Unlike oil, which is easy to transport in bulk, natural gas is 600 times less dense than a liquid, creating difficulties in transporting it around the world. This has created substantial price differences for natural gas around the globe, differences that U.S. gas producers are eager to take advantage of, and a reason the LNG export market is expected to grow by more than 50% by 2030.

Source: International Energy Agency.

As seen in the above graph, U.S. natural gas prices are two to three times less expensive than those in Europe or Japan. This creates abundant opportunities for mutually beneficial trade that promises to help solve many of the world's largest problems.

Why the world needs LNG exports
There are three broad categories for why the world needs and will immensely benefit from America's booming gas and LNG trade: environmental, economic, and geopolitical.

According to the UN, the world's population is set to grow from 7 billion to 9.6 billion by 2050. This, along with growth in fast developing nations such as China, will see demand for electricity soar. Natural gas power plants produce 50%-70% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal, which is especially important for nations such as China, which is the world's largest emitter of CO2. 

China's coal consumption has tripled since just 2000, and today the nation consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined. This trend is set to get worse, with China expected to build an additional 363 coal-fired power plants in the coming years. 

China's reliance on coal (in 2009 it made up 70% of the nation's power capacity) has resulted in air pollution so bad that the government has vowed to eliminate all coal-fired power plants from Bejing by 2020, and more than double its gas-fired power capacity between 2010 and 2015.

Although China has the world's largest shale gas reserves (68% larger than the U.S.), it is finding it difficult to reproduce America's natural gas miracle. This has led China to sign a 30-year, $400 billion gas deal with Russia and institute plans to triple its LNG imports by 2020 -- all in an effort to double its gas supply by the end of the decade.

China's decision to diversify away from coal isn't just out of concern for air pollution and climate change, it is also because coal is the most deadly form of energy in the world. According to a study by the World Health Organization, coal kills 40 times more people per TWh of energy produced than does natural gas. In China, the figure is 68 times because of coal mining practices so unsafe that riots have broken out over the issue.

World Peace: sponsored by American LNG exports
Trade in LNG will do more than just help keep the world's economy growing, clean the air, slow climate change, and save lives. It will also help increase geopolitical stability around the globe. For example, one need only look at the Russo-Ukrainian crisis to see what happens when America's allies (mainly Europe) depend on a potentially hostile source for 30% of their natural gas.

China's recent deal with Russia will also mean it will be partially held hostage to the whims of Moscow, but American companies have a plan to help change all that.

Helping our allies while generating U.S. economic prosperity?
The Federal Regulatory Commission has thus far approved six LNG export terminals in the U.S. with a combined daily export capacity of 9.86 billion cubic feet of gas (bcf/d). If all 14 proposed terminals are eventually approved, that capacity would nearly double to 18.1 billion bcf/d, representing 18% of U.S. projected 2024 gas production.

The EIA estimates that (thanks in part to LNG exports) the price of U.S. natural gas will rise by 5.6% per year through 2040. Currently, the number of rigs drilling for gas in the U.S. is at a 15-year low because gas is so cheap.

Rising gas prices due to LNG exports will greatly increase the amount of investment in U.S. gas production, creating many high-paying jobs. For example, since 2007, Pennsylvania alone has seen 15,000 natural gas jobs created thanks to the Marcellus shale boom.

Today's world is one in desperate need of solutions to major problems such as climate change, rising energy costs, air pollution, and rising international tensions. American LNG exports represent a legitimate option for alleviating these concerns while simultaneously helping create domestic jobs and spur economic growth.

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Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 30, 2014, at 6:50 PM, Freddyfreebe1 wrote:

    These people are not happy getting rich off this country using the energy in this country. They are greedy want to support the world and have more money then air. They don't care if you and your family have to live in a life raft and starve to death because they done kill every living thing in this country. The Greedy is worst then any known and unknown diseases. These people are like a Cancer of this country.

  • Report this Comment On August 30, 2014, at 9:04 PM, luckyagain wrote:

    No one really knows how long this surge in supply will last. It might peak in a few years and start declining just as fast as it started. Better to wait and see if this is a permanent things or just a temporary thing.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 10:37 AM, AdamGalas wrote:

    Actually, according to the EIA, US gas production won't peak until after 2040 and formations such as the Marcellus are projected to produce large amounts of gas for 110 years.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 11:02 AM, paleosoul wrote:

    In spite of positive press and pro-natural gas propaganda, this is a deeply secretive industry that lobbied its way out of clean water act regulations over the last 15 years. Fracking chemical cocktails are deeply held secrets. Why?

    Is this secrecy really to stay ahead of the competition or is it to maintain deniability in case of some environmental disaster? And wouldn't such an environmental disaster not only be a problem for those directly affected, but an industry dependent on lenient environmental laws that could be strengthened quickly in the face political pressure created by such a disaster?

    Oil and gas producers will need to be more open about the risks they subject the public and their investors to before I will be comfortable with investing in them.

  • Report this Comment On August 31, 2014, at 5:15 PM, AdamGalas wrote:

    Two points about the risks of fracking:

    1. Texas law actually requires complete divulgence of the chemicals used in fracking. While its possible that different combinations are used in different states, its not nearly as much as a black box as many people think.

    2. Natural gas is far better for both the environment and can save a lot of lives because power generated from gas is much safer than coal, both from an air pollution and greenhouse gas emission point of view.

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Adam Galas

Adam Galas is an energy writer for The Motley Fool and a retired Army Medical Services Officer. After serving his country in the global war on terror, he has come home to serve investors by teaching them how to invest better in order to achieve their financial dreams.

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