After the boom in natural gas

By Clifford Krauss and Eric Lipton

The New York Times

(EVELYN, La.) — The crew of workers fought off the blistering Louisiana sun, jerking their wrenches to tighten the fat hoses that would connect their cement trucks to the Chesapeake Energy drill rig — one of the last two rigs the company is still using to drill for natural gas here in the Haynesville Shale.

At its peak, Chesapeake ran 38 rigs in the region. All told, it has sunk more than 1,200 wells into the Haynesville, a gas-rich vein of dense rock that straddles Louisiana and Texas. Fed by a gold-rush mentality and easy money from Wall Street, Chesapeake and its competitors have done the same in other shale fields from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania.

For most of the country, the result has been cheaper energy. The nation is awash in so much natural gas that electric utilities, which burn the fuel in many generating plants, have curbed rate increases and switched more capacity to gas from coal, a dirtier fossil fuel.

Companies and municipalities are deploying thousands of new gas-powered trucks and buses, curbing noxious diesel fumes and reducing the nation’s reliance on imported oil.

And companies like fertilizer and chemical makers, which use gas as a raw material, are suddenly finding that the United States is an attractive place to put new factories, compared with, say, Asia, where gas is four times the price. Dow Chemical, which uses natural gas as a material for producing plastics, has assembled a list of 91 new manufacturing projects, representing $70 billion in potential investment and up to three million jobs, that various companies have proposed or begun because of cheap gas.

“The country has stumbled into a windfall on the backs of these entrepreneurs,” said Edward Hirs, a finance professor at the University of Houston who contributed to a report that estimated that the nation’s economy benefited by more than $100 billion last year alone from the lower gas prices.

But while the gas rush has benefited most Americans, it’s been a money loser so far for many of the gas exploration companies and their tens of thousands of investors.

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