While some see doom as the outcome if the United States fails to institute a national policy on carbon dioxide emissions or a renewable portfolio standard for power generation, a cadre of researchers predicts quite the opposite, and it's mostly thanks to the country's recently found abundance of natural gas, the role of gas in power generation, and electric vehicles.

"...[B]usiness-as-usual, market-related trends might propel the United States toward greater oil and natural gas self-sufficiency over the next 20 years, while scenarios specifically focused on strict carbon caps and pricing, or a high carbon tax of $60 a [metric ton] or more, could lead to a significant increase in U.S. reliance on oil imports between now and 2025," according to a new paper from the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Houston's Rice University.

The paper, titled "Energy Market Consequences of an Emerging U.S. Carbon Management Strategy," asserts that "the single most effective way" to reduce U.S. oil demand and foreign imports would be with an aggressive rollout of electric automobiles. And that's where natural gas comes in as it is predicted to play an increasing role in power generation, even without federal emissions mandates, the researchers said.

By some estimates 1,000 Tcf of natural gas is recoverable in North America alone, the researchers noted. This is in large part due to the shale gas revolution, but also thanks to existing conventional gas supplies.

"The impact of shale gas is already apparent," they noted. "U.S. import terminals for LNG [liquefied natural gas] sit virtually empty, and the prospects that the U.S. will become even more dependent on foreign imports have receded, with terminal owners now petitioning the U.S. government for export licenses."

According to the Baker Institute research, even without major energy or climate legislation, the United States would still gradually shift away from burning coal to increased use of domestic natural gas.

"This would ease the increase in GHGs [greenhouse gases] that would come about from rising energy use, while at the same time allowing the development of unconventional oil resources in North America in the 2020s that would reduce U.S. imports of Middle East oil supplies in the intermediate term."

Without a policy on GHGs or renewables, natural gas demand would rise by more than 40% by 2040, but prices would remain "stable" for at least 20 years before rising "gently," the researchers predicted.

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