The shale gas industry contributed $76.8 billion to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and supported more than 600,000 jobs in 2010, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, according to a report issued Wednesday by the World Economic Forum (WEF) at IHS CERAWeek 2012 in Houston.

The domestic shale industry’s “contributions during this period of slow recovery have significantly stimulated the overall U.S. economy through a 10% reduction in the cost of electricity and lower consumer prices for goods and services, owing to lower input costs,” WEF said in its report. “Over the short term, economic models show that lower gas prices will help the larger economy in several measurable ways: a 1.1% increase in GDP in 2013; one million more jobs in 2014; and 3% higher industrial production in 2017 than would be anticipated without shale gas development.

“Although the short-term GDP boost will be offset as the economy returns to full employment, it means that the economy will likely recover to its long-term potential sooner than it otherwise would have. IHS forecasts that GDP over the long term will be slightly higher because of the increased competitiveness of domestic manufacturers. Industrial production will be 4.7% greater by 2035 than would be expected without shale gas development. In addition, lower energy and feedstock costs will lead to more manufacturing investment and employment, particularly in the chemicals industry.”

The oil and gas industry created 9% of new jobs in the United States last year, and the indirect impact of the energy sector on economic recovery “is far greater than its direct effects suggest,” WEF said. The industry created 37,000 direct jobs in 2011, which “drove the creation of an additional 111,000 indirect jobs during the same period, given an employment multiplier effect of three,” WEF said. Solar and wind energy projects have an employment multiplier effect as high as 3.3 during construction, but their contribution is lower during operation.

“We always suspected that energy had a vital role to play in the economic recovery, but we were still surprised when the data uncovered the magnitude of the sector’s multiplier effects,” said WEF senior director Roberto Bocca.

The domestic oil and gas extraction sector grew at a rate of 4.5% in 2011, compared to an overall U.S. GDP rate of 1.7%. Because the energy industry is by nature capital intensive and requires high levels of investment, it has the ability to generate significant contributions to GDP growth, WEF said.

Worker compensation in energy-related industries is about twice the average in the United States, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom, and four times the average in Mexico and South Korea, according to the report.

The current low price of natural gas is also a positive for the U.S. economy, WEF said. Economic models indicate that increased production from shale plays and resulting lower gas prices could prompt a 1.1% increase in GDP in 2013, produce a million jobs in 2014 and increase industrial production 3% in 2017, according to the report.

Lower natural gas prices have “provided a short-term boost to disposable income, profits (except for natural gas producers), GDP and employment during a troubling time for the U.S. economy. These positive effects of lower gas prices are occurring as the economy is slowly recovering from the severe recession of 2008-2009,” WEF said.

“Additionally, the availability of a secure supply of low-cost natural gas in the United States is restoring a global competitive advantage for many domestic gas-intensive industries: chemicals, aluminum, steel, glass, cement and other manufacturing industries. Some of these industries are beginning to invest in the expansion of their U.S. operations based on the availability of low cost gas. Lower gas costs are also helping to hold down electricity prices as the share of natural gas in power generation increases. And residential and commercial consumers of natural gas are enjoying lower heating costs.”

Henry Hub spot prices averaged $2.50/MMBtu in February, the lowest average monthly price since February 2002, and are forecast to average $3.17/MMBtu this year and $3.96/MMBtu in 2013, according the Energy Information Administration.

The rise in U.S. oil and gas production may very well have had a key role in contributing to the U.S. economy of late, but that relationship has not always been so clear, at least from a statistical standpoint. There have been several periods since 2003 when rises in total U.S. oil & gas production have coincided with slowing growth in the U.S. economy, and vice-versa (see chart).