Can natural gas be a panacea for America's energy problems?
Several recent developments highlight the appeal of natural gas, especially in a policy landscape that does not price greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide as coal and about 30 percent less than oil.
In its annual outlook released last week, the Energy Information Administration projected that domestic shale natural gas will fill an increasingly important role in U.S. energy consumption. Oil giant Shell said last week it will produce more gas than oil by 2012, illustrating the shift among the oil industry into the gas sector.
Utilities are starting to replace their old coal-fired power plants with new gas plants. Natural gas complements renewable energy production when, for example, the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. The recently discovered resources of shale gas in the Northeast and Louisiana indicate that historically volatile gas prices could be more stable in the future.
Politically, President Obama has cited natural gas as one of the top areas where Republicans and Democrats can find bipartisanship. But so far that hasn't proven true: Lawmakers are divided over hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method to extract shale gas also dubbed "fracking."
Should Congress and the administration seek to incentivize natural gas in areas like electricity production and heavy-duty vehicles? Can lawmakers and various interest groups find common ground on fracking? Should natural gas no longer be considered a "bridge" fuel to renewable energy, given that Congress is not poised to pass comprehensive climate legislation any time soon?