Amid all the gloom in our national political dialogue over the debt, deficit and our perpetual gridlock, there are a few bright spots. Among those bright spots is the natural gas revolution now under way across the country, including here in Utah. With emerging technologies and newly discovered reserves of both oil and gas, the U.S. has the potential to set the world energy economy on its ear.
That is why it is puzzling that the U.S. Senate would consider a ban on exports of liquid natural gas (LNG) — which could also cause negative long-term effects right here in Utah. Together with stalling on the Keystone Pipeline, continued lockouts from federal lands and excessive taxes and regulation, one is left wondering whose side some politicians are on.
If current domestic energy production is allowed to flourish, experts project that within a few short years the U.S. could cut oil imports from 52 percent to around 20 percent. Those same experts predict that U.S. industrial energy users would soon enjoy a significant electricity cost advantage over foreign competitors, opening the door to resurgent manufacturing jobs and revenue.
If played right, domestic energy production could pave the way to a new American century — the better future we all want for our children, and that so many fear is impossible. American presidents have promised "energy independence" for decades, and we are now postured to largely accomplish that seemingly unreachable goal. Imagine cutting dependent economic ties with hostile governments such as Iran and Venezuela, and extricating ourselves from the morass of the Middle East.
To do so will require free access to global markets and a reasonable tax and regulatory environment for domestic exploration and development.
In several other states like North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, employment rates are soaring and tax revenues are flooding into state and local coffers. Utah's own Uinta Basin is among the leaders in known reserves, yet to date, our "boom" has been put on hold. Although there has been an uptick in job growth in the Basin, barriers remain in accessing the right market — we lack the transportation infrastructure needed to ship our resources economically to ready and willing buyers.
In partnership with local entities, Utah Department of Transportation recently helped fund a study which uncovered the incredible opportunity for Utahn jobs and revenue if we were to find an effective way to solve our infrastructure problems with roads and rails. Even allowing for significant spending to mitigate environmental impact, long-term projections show the potential for over 26,000 new jobs and over $35 billion of additional economic activity, with billions contributing to Utah schools and other public resources.
The irony is that, while government has done little to generate this domestic energy boom, there is plenty it can do to hold it back. Certainly our national debt brings a danger of higher interest rates and taxes which would limit available capital. Continuing to block the Keystone Pipeline is shortsighted. If we fail to invest in our own infrastructure in the Uinta Basin and elsewhere in Utah, we will limit our own prosperity.
It is a good thing Utah has elected federal representatives that will stand up against the anti-energy forces in Washington. Sen. Mike Lee sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where an export ban that would cut U.S. energy producers off from world markets is under consideration. I am certain he will be a strong voice for free markets and domestic energy expansion. By recognizing this potential for growth, we can ensure unprecedented opportunity and prosperity here in Utah.
Kevin Van Tassell is senator of District 26.