Growing domestic natural gas supplies from shale plays will fuel North America's energy needs for 100 years or longer, energy executives said last week in Houston at the annual meeting of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association (TIPRO).

Growing gas shale production, combined with security and environmental advantages, put the United States on one track, said keynote speaker G. Steven Farris. "We are heading toward natural gas."

The United States now has "at least a 100-year supply" of gas and possibly twice that, Farris said. Shale discoveries and the ramp-up in drilling have "taken the exploratory side out of the business."

Farris and T. Boone Pickens, who has taken up the cause for natural gas in the past two years, both said increasing gas use in the transportation sector would lower carbon dioxide emissions and, most important, reduce foreign oil imports.

"Conversion of 25% of the U.S. vehicle fleet to gas would lower oil imports by 5 million b/d," Farris said. And regardless of the political climate in Washington, DC, "at some point, we're going to get legislation" concerning climate change. "If we are serious about carbon dioxide, then we will be serious about natural gas."

Pickens, who has pushed for Congress to create tax incentives for gas-fueled vehicles, said he thinks energy legislation, with a tilt to natural gas, could be enacted before Memorial Day. Bills containing tax incentives are expected to be taken up by both the House and the Senate in the next few months (see NGI, Feb. 15; July 27, 2009; July 13, 2009).

However, Pickens said subsidies for natural gas should be off the table. "I don't want any subsidies for natural gas," he said. "All I want is encouragement to get our heavy-duty vehicles over the natural gas." Private industry, he said, "should provide the infrastructure" to build gas-fueling equipment.

The legendary wildcatter, who's now 81, cut his teeth in Texas oilfields decades ago and he said his focus remains on reducing imports of oil from OPEC. Since mid-2008 he estimated he's spent more than $62 million of his own money to promote the Pickens Plan, which at first touted the importance of alternative energies but now focuses on domestic natural gas.

"I'm for everything American -- all of it -- coal, nuclear, anything American," Pickens said. "I'll take anything over OPEC oil...We're dependent on oil from countries that hate us." Heavy-duty vehicles using natural gas would provide a "practical solution" to the diesel they now burn.

If the estimated eight million trucks now on U.S. highways burned natural gas instead of diesel, Pickens said the United States would import 2.5 million b/d less of oil just for that sector, which is about half of what it now imports from OPEC members.

Regina Hopper, CEO of America's Natural Gas Alliance, reminded TIPRO members that they needed to get out and tell the natural gas story. "We need to communicate very effectively that this clean American product is available right now," she said.

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