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Shale Gas Having 'Profound' Impact on U.S. Economy, Says Study

Shale natural gas has dramatically transformed the outlook for U.S. energy supplies and is having "profound" economic impacts on creating jobs and stimulating growth, as well as bolstering tax revenue and reducing consumer energy costs, according to a study by IHS Global Insight.

"The Economic and Employment Contributions of Shale Gas in the United States," commissioned by the industry-funded America's Natural Gas Alliance, was published on Tuesday. The study found that shale gas production supported more than 600,000 jobs in 2010, a number projected to grow to nearly 870,000 by 2015.

"Shale gas is a very big job creator," said IHS Vice President John Larson, the lead author of the study. He talked about the report during a conference call Tuesday.

Larson said IHS research indicates that even with "modest improvements in hiring in November, we continue to forecast stubbornly high unemployment until 2015."

But that's not the case for the U.S. shale industry and "in presenting this study, our hope is to inform the discussion of the economic potential from this vast North American resource."

Larson said "two things struck me as we conducted this study. First is the pace at which this industry has been adding jobs. If you look at where it was in terms of production in 2000, when it was 1%, to today, which is at 34%, and layer on top of that the economic backdrop, it's pretty remarkable given the economic environment we're in and then see how this industry is performing."

The shale gas industry, he said, has been a "bright spot during a laborious economic recovery period. No other industry is creating what this does for the overall economy...The size of the job contribution and the broad base multiplier is buoying a lot of individuals in terms of indirect and induced jobs."

The second thing that struck Larson was the effect shale gas has had on the macroeconomic outlook for the United States. Booming shale gas supplies have led to lower, sustained gas prices, which in turn has reduced power generation prices across the country.

"When you are thinking about where we are in terms of the current recession and the stimulative impact brought about by the lower natural gas prices," without shale gas effects, "consider how much more painful it could have been in the absence of it."

The study is the first of three by IHS on the economic effects of unconventional gas and oil in North America. The shale gas study is the most definitive to date in tracking the long-term economic impact of domestic shale gas production because it presents the contributions of shale gas in terms of jobs, economic value and government revenues through 2035, Larson said. The study also considers the broader macroeconomic impacts on households and businesses.

"The rapid growth in shale gas production -- currently 34% of total U.S. production -- is one of the most significant energy developments in recent decades and is having a significant impact on the nation's economy in terms of stimulating job creation and economic growth," said Larson. "This study further informs the discussion with a greater understanding of the economic potential from this vast American energy source."

Among the study's findings:

As recently as 2007 it was believed that the United States would need to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) for domestic consumption. Instead shale gas output has more than doubled the size of the discovered gas resource in North America that is large enough to "satisfy more than 100 years of consumption at current rates," the study said.

A key reason for the shale gas industry's "profound economic impact is its high 'employment multiplier' -- the indirect and induced jobs created to support an industry," Larson said. "For every direct job created in the shale gas sector, more than three indirect and induced jobs are created, a rate higher than the financial and construction industries."

The IHS review only looked at the national perspective; a closer look at regional impacts is expected in the future, Larson said during the conference call.

"Shale gas combines a capital-intensive industry with a broad domestic supply chain," Larson said. "The United States is a leader in all parts of the shale gas industry, which means that most of its suppliers are domestically based, and that means a larger portion of the dollars spent are supporting domestic jobs in trucking, steel fabrication, aggregates, heavy equipment manufacturing, hotels, and restaurants, among others."

In addition, the researchers found that shale gas and related jobs pay higher wages on average -- currently $23.16/hour -- than those paid to workers in manufacturing, transportation and education.

Researchers measured the broader impact of lower gas prices and found that over the 2010-2035 period consumer prices for gas and electricity on average would be "at least two times higher absent shale gas production." Lower gas prices have resulted in an average 10% reduction in electricity costs nationally and "that flows through the economy to lead to lower prices for many other consumer purchases," said the study. Lower gas prices also boost the international competitiveness of domestic manufacturers, resulting in 2.9% higher industrial production by 2017 and 4.7% higher production by 2035.

"Absent the added supply from shale gas production, large volumes of LNG imports would be required and U.S. consumers would be paying European or even Asian prices, which are two to three times what they are today here in the U.S.," Larson said. "The benefits of that savings reverberate through the wider economy."

To measure the economic contribution of shale gas, researchers fully "sized" the economic influence of the industry by capturing all the supply chain and income effects associated with shale gas activity in the United States, the study said. The results of the production and capital expenditure profile analysis then were integrated into a model developed by IHS Global Insight. This approach links input-output modeling techniques that are similar to those used by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Congressional Budget Office.

According to the study, the results represent a "conservative" estimate because the model used "constrained future production and capital expenditures by realistic market demand as well as technical and economic feasibility of developing shale gas plays." It also did not consider production or investment activities from additional gas plays that have yet to be discovered. Researchers independently evaluated each shale play "to reflect regulatory environments in each region and adjusted production profiles to reflect little or no development if there was uncertainty as to regulation and access."

According to IHS, the study also didn't consider the economic benefits accruing to the U.S. suppliers that supply the Canadian shale gas industry. Nor did the study "quantify the job creation in industries that would refocus investment back to the United States (for instance, petrochemicals)."

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