It's time for all would-be prognosticators, including yours truly, to begin advancing their predictions about what 2013 might have in store for us.
For my money, I'm willing to predict that the year will result in an increased taking of sides in the U.S. regarding the desirability of domestic natural gas being cooled until it becomes liquefied and shipped to the likes of Europe or Japan. We may not have a definitive decision on the subject by the end of next year -- after all, exporting gas will require government approval, and if TransCanada's (NYSE:TRP) effort to gain a go-ahead for its Keystone XL pipeline project is any indication, there may still be no clarity even at the close of 2014 -- but the pro- and anti-exporting rosters likely will become significantly more obvious.
The stakes were raised on the subject, and the cacophony from those for and "agin" exporting was also increased two weeks ago, when the results of a government sponsored study on the likely U.S. economic effects of LNG exports was released. Those results were generally favorable to the sharing of our vast new supplies of natural gas. Simplistically, it now appears that, as you might have expected, those pushing for the processing and shipping of LNG include natural gas producers like ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chesapeake (NYSE:CHK), organized labor, and possibly the federal government.
Those wanting to confine our new treasure-trove of natural gas to our own shores include -- surprise, surprise -- environmental groups and manufacturers like Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW), for which natural gas is a feedstock for a host of its end-products. Obviously, with gas prices about five times higher in Europe and Japan than in North America, Dow CEO Andrew Liveris seeks to guard against the possibility that sharing our gas would elevate his company's costs at home.
The Wall Street Journal's coverage of the subject provides intriguing insight on the unpredictability of how the Obama administration is apt to ultimately come down on the subject. Upon release of the report, which was prepared by NERA Economic Consulting, a Washington, D.C., arm of Marsh & McLennan (NYSE:MMC), the paper noted: "For President Barak Obama, gas exports could play into his embrace of rising U.S. production and help achieve foreign-policy goals."
I believe It's factual and not political to note that the president's "embrace of U.S. production" is all too often indiscernible. Indeed, it took only three days following the November national election for the administration to zap 1.6 million acres of federal land in the West that had been targeted for oil shale development. My next query then becomes one of the specific foreign policy goals to which the writer was referring.
Same Journal, different take
In fact, four days after the original article on the release of the report, that same Journal's columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, observed: "Since becoming president, Mr. Obama has treated hydrocarbon production like an infectious disease to be eradicated. His administration had to commission a study to learn ...that allowing American companies to export (LNG) would be beneficial to the U.S. economy."
O'Grady concluded her column by saying:
Greater North American energy supplies imply millions of new jobs, higher tax revenues, plentiful energy for continental manufacturing and the end of reliance on hostile producers like Venezuela. But to reach optimum potential, investors need the freedom to explore (for), exploit and refine hydrocarbons and move output at every stage of production throughout the continent. In other words, governments need to get out of the way.
As to environmental groups, I consider myself to be at one with them. Indeed, I'm offended -- as is most everyone I know -- by the harming of a single blade of grass on our fabulous planet. There is, however, something to be said for keeping tabs on reality and logic. That objective clearly wasn't met by a Sierra Club spokesperson who recently advocated "jumping over natural gas and ushering in renewable energy."
Let's not get ahead of ourselves
In the final analysis, everyone's entitled to an opinion -- hopefully even yours truly -- on what is almost certain to become a progressively more contentious subject next year and beyond. For what it's worth, I'm inclined to lean toward the arguments of Dow's Liveris and energy seer T. Boone Pickens, who, almost alone among those from the energy industry, opposes shipping our gas overseas at the first opportunity.
Boone's notion -- I can call him that, since I've met him -- is that our natural gas should be kept at home. He believes the country will benefit by its use in, for instance, fueling cars and trucks, thereby fostering U.S. energy independence, while reducing gasoline-related emissions.
That seems like a logical approach, at least until we know how much surplus gas we'll have once we've fed newly constituted fleets of vehicles. And by extension, we'll then also have a handle on the number of new jobs that will be created by the additional chemical and petrochemical plants that Dow, Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-B), and others are constructing on the basis of low-priced gas.
I suppose that puts me in the same camp as the Sierra Club for now. Will wonders ever cease?
David Lee Smith has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil and has the following options: long JAN 2013 $16.00 calls on Chesapeake Energy, long JAN 2014 $20.00 calls on Chesapeake Energy, long JAN 2014 $30.00 calls on Chesapeake Energy, and short JAN 2014 $15.00 puts on Chesapeake Energy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.