Ben Margot, Associated Press
American flags are seen near the Shell refinery, in Martinez, Calif.
WASHINGTON — This Thanksgiving, as American families count their blessings, we as a nation should also give thanks for what we have in abundance — energy.
An abundance of affordable, accessible and safe energy is a bright spot in an otherwise bleak economic environment. American energy could revitalize our economy, create millions of jobs, help reduce deficits, lessen our dependence on foreign sources and enhance our global competitiveness. Because of technological advancements — hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling — we can now tap vast oil and gas resources in geologic formations that were previously too costly and too difficult to reach.
We have access to a 100-year supply of natural gas, and by 2020, oil production is expected to rise by 68 percent above 2008 levels, leading to a sharp drop in oil imports. By 2030, we could become a net energy exporter.
This is a game-changing development no one saw coming. Until recently, we were largely dependent on overseas sources, spending billions annually to import foreign oil, which made up 60 percent of our supply just five years ago. Our economy was increasingly vulnerable to the whims of unfriendly regimes and disruptions to the global energy supply.
Today, the new boom in shale oil and natural gas could actually transform our economy.
The U.S. Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy sponsored a report by energy research firm IHS-CERA to assess the economic benefits of the shale boom — if policymakers at the federal, state and local levels don't get in the way.
The findings show shale development has produced 1.75 million jobs over the past few years and could be responsible for 3.5 million jobs by 2035. Shale energy development will pump $237 billion into the U.S. economy this year and could generate $62 billion in federal, state and local taxes and royalties. Total revenues could reach $2.35 trillion by 2035.
Shale and opportunities onshore, offshore and in other sectors of the energy industry could give us a competitive advantage.
A surge in U.S. oil production will help solve the U.S. energy trade imbalance. And a resource-rich North America will shift the global energy landscape, substantially strengthening the security and geopolitical position of the United States and our neighbors.
Yet an abundant, affordable and secure energy supply is more opportunity than reality at this point. We won't realize its full potential unless we capitalize on the opportunity through sound policy and prudent development.
And let's be very clear — much of the recent progress has been despite the federal government, not because of it.
Most of the new energy production is taking place on private or state lands. The private sector has driven growth by investing in new technologies, and the markets have accelerated innovation. Meanwhile, the government has attempted to pick winners and losers, and we know how that's gone.
The industry is working with state governments and the public to adopt best practices and strict environmental standards, and the states are effectively regulating energy development. But bureaucratic roadblocks at the federal level — like overregulation, endless environmental reviews, tax hikes and permitting delays — could halt new development in its tracks.
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America's leaders should be smart enough not to squander this opportunity. That's why the Chamber is pushing for expanded American energy development in any "big deal" Congress strikes to address the fiscal cliff and our long-term economic challenges. It's our single greatest opportunity for progress and agreement. We must also continue to make renewables and alternative energy technologies more competitive.
Yes, America has plenty to be thankful for. We've got all the elements to usher in a new era of energy abundance — natural resources, technology, workforce, capital and an entrepreneurial spirit. Now, let's adopt an agenda that reflects it.
Thomas J. Donohue is the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.