Natural Gas in the Spotlight in D.C.

Natural gas was a hot topic in the nation's capital yesterday, with the president making meaningful pronouncements during his State of the Union address and a major congressional committee engaging stakeholders in a high-level dialogue.

President Obama discussed energy issues early during his speech, noting that ‘no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.’

‘We're finally poised to control our own energy future,’ the president said. ‘We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas. We produce more natural gas than ever before.

‘The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,’ he continued. ‘We need to encourage that.’

Obama called for measures that would ‘keep cutting red tape’ in order to make the process for acquiring oil and gas permits more streamlined and faster. But concurrently, the president said he wants to work with lawmakers to ensure that research and development activities continue in order to create technologies that make burning natural gas cleaner.

To help fund this kind of R&D activity, Obama suggested that portions of oil and gas revenues be siphoned off to fund an ‘Energy Security Trust’ designed to ‘drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.’

‘This would be a welcomed step,’ said Richard Kolodziej, president of industry group NGVAmerica, in a statement. ‘Through more research and development, natural gas vehicles will get even more efficient, more cost-effective and cleaner.’

He noted, however, that NGVs are available today across the full spectrum of applications, from light-duty passenger vehicles to heavy-duty trucking. The marketplace is growing quickly, and new government policies will serve to further expand the reach of NGVs.

Earlier on Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources hosted a panel of experts who delivered testimony that addressed natural gas specifically. The thrust focused not on NGVs, but mainly on natural gas production and exports.

The panelists generally agreed that domestic natural gas represents a ‘game-changing opportunity,’ as Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum, commented. Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Co., referred to the ascendancy of American natural gas as the ‘shale gale.’

Nonetheless, the panelists also suggested that the U.S. will need to pursue the boom responsibly from both the environmental and commercial perspectives. Drill irresponsibly, and pollution could run unchecked. Export too much natural gas, and fuel prices in the domestic market could fluctuate wildly.

‘Is there a way to a natural gas policy where America can have it all?’ asked Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., committee chairman.

An answer to that inquiry might not materialize anytime soon, but momentum seems to be moving in a direction where natural gas will figure prominently in several areas of the U.S. socioeconomic fabric.

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