In 2008, the financial crisis in the United States caused the abrupt fall of many well-known companies and shook the U.S. economy to the core. As of last year, however, it appears this is all about to change, and the United States is primed to enter into a golden age of natural resources and manufacturing. Yes, you read that right: The manufacturing sector will be rejuvenated and the golden age will be driven by our wealth of natural gas -- the vast majority of which in the form of shale gas.
A natural gas production leap
As declines in production from conventional gas reservoirs in the U.S. continue, long-term efforts by the natural gas industry, combined with the U.S. Department of Energy, have instituted new technological strategies making use of hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") and horizontal drilling to increase the amount of natural gas reserves that we have access to in the United States. Unconventional gas production accounted for 42% of total U.S. gas production in 2007, and as these techniques are refined and become more cost-effective, this is expected to rise to 64% of total U.S. gas production by 2020, as reported by the American Petroleum Institute.
In addition to the growth in the cut of the U.S. gas production pie that unconventional gas is providing for, the gross production of U.S. shale production has surged higher at a ridiculous rate year to year. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that in 2008, production increased 71% over 2007. In 2009, shale production increased 54%. On top of this, the amount of proven reserves are also increasing at a rate of leaps and bounds, by 76% in 2009 and by over 100% in 2011!
This explosion in shale gas discovery and adaptation for use, combined with the low prices due to efficient recovery operations, will affect the manufacturing industry in overarching ways. The industry expects to employ roughly one million new workers by 2025. The decrease in energy costs caused by an expected overabundance of this resource will have a two-fold affect on the economy, allowing more competitive pricing across all industries from more affordable energy prices and those energy costs driving down the costs of raw materials. These changes will rejuvenate the manufacturing industry, as well as other industries largely driven by fixed costs such as the chemical and steel businesses.
It'll affect you, too
This booming natural resource production will affect us in our daily lives, through the aforementioned lower energy costs. Lower costs will put more money in your pocket, an estimated $926 of disposable income by the end of 2015 for the average U.S. household, and an increase to $2,000 by 2035, as calculated by the American Natural Gas Alliance. In addition, this expected oversupply of cheap energy is encouraging the prospects of replacing coal plants with natural gas supplied plants as a more green-friendly option, as well as building them as backups to the wind power that is becoming more prevalent across the country. However, the commentary is split on how green-friendly this is, as the process of the release of wastewater from the fracking operation that so inexpensively extracts this energy has come under fire for damaging consumption resources.
While you would think that the large oil companies like ExxonMobil or Royal Dutch Shell are the companies most poised to profit from this boom, many of them were actually late to the game, buying up smaller companies rather than establishing their own holdings. Smaller companies, such as EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) and Chesapeake Energy Corp (OTC:CHKA.Q), which specialize in the horizontal drilling method that has made this process so inexpensive will be the winners in this modern day "gold rush."
Whatever your feelings on the environmental ramifications of these new technologies for natural gas capture, the benefits will likely be too much for citizens of the U.S. to resist, both in the home and at the national level. The idea of rejuvenating the economy, specifically those sectors such as manufacturing and natural resource that have so blatantly lagged because of cheaper costs abroad, appeals to our desire to be on top. Thus, this golden age is already here, and all of us would be wise to jump aboard this train and ride it as far as it will take us.