- - Monday, May 28, 2012

As Washington debates energy-related is- sues such as fracking, offshore drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline, we’re missing a much bigger story unfolding across the country. Because natural gas is now abundant at affordable prices, we are experiencing a manufacturing renaissance in the U.S. unlike any we’ve seen in decades.

Due in large part to newly accessible shale deposits that have revolutionized the energy landscape, natural gas prices are lower than they’ve been in 10 years and we have enough to last for decades. Economists, including those in the government, project that natural gas prices will remain competitive for the foreseeable future. Suddenly companies all over the world are reinvesting in American industries that are natural gas-intensive.

The fertilizer industry provides a good example. The main feedstock of fertilizer is natural gas. The industry avoided any investment in the United States for almost 10 years, resulting in a doubling of the amount of fertilizer we imported. Now, keyed by lower gas prices, industry leaders PotashCorp of Canada and Swiss-based Pandora Methanol are reopening shuttered fertilizer facilities in places like Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. Hundreds of people will go back to work in well-paying jobs as a result.

The U.S. petrochemical industry is also making a comeback. High natural gas prices hit U.S. exports hard in that industry over the past decade, but new discoveries and lower prices have made the United States highly competitive again. Dow, Shell and Chevron all plan to open new U.S. petrochemical plants in the next few years. The American Chemistry Council believes that affordable natural gas extracted from shale deposits could result in a 25 percent increase in ethane production, which they say would create 400,000 new U.S. jobs either directly or indirectly related to the chemistry industry.

The renaissance can also be seen in the long-suffering U.S. steel industry. Steel companies that have long relied on coking coal are eyeing natural gas as a cheaper and cleaner alternative, with new facilities in Louisiana and Ohio about to come on line.

Everywhere we look, natural gas is fueling a manufacturing boom. New oil and gas deposits are slashing our dependence on imported energy, reducing our trade deficit and providing jobs for hardworking people all over America.

We need to remember that the policies we set in Washington have real implications in cities and towns across the country. The Obama administration’s executive order on fracking regulation is a step in the right direction. By establishing a coordinated approach toward federal regulation while acknowledging the primacy of state regulators, natural gas companies can function in a more effective, streamlined environment. Regulators at every level should follow this lead and adopt policies that preserve access to the great quantities of shale gas buried across the country.

Abundant and affordable natural gas, and the thousands upon thousands of manufacturing jobs it will support, depend on it.

Skip Horvath is president and CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association