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

This major global energy megatrend offers to help solve major global issues such as rising energy costs, climate change, and growing international tensions with Russia.

Aug 30, 2014 at 11:07AM

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. 

Utica Production Growth

Marcellus Production Boom

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.

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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.

Global Gas Prices

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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