Reports that 2013 was the year America achieved energy independence are wildly exaggerated. But something very big did happen: The United States became the world’s biggest producer of oil and natural gas.


America’s total liquid fuel production is now around 12.1 million barrels per day. That’s 300,000 more barrels than the Saudis are pumping out and 1.6 million more than the Russians. As long as we’re still consuming more gas and oil than we produce, it’s too early to declare energy independence, and it would be foolish to stop paying attention to what is going on in the rest of the world. But, right now, the news is exceptionally good.


There is enough natural gas under America to supply our energy needs for the next 105 years. PIRA Energy Group, a worldwide energy market analysis firm, believes the United States will retain its status as top oil producer until at least 2030.


What has happened in the United States is “the energy equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down,” according to Robin West of PFC Energy, a global consulting firm specializing in the oil and gas industry. “It’s a big deal in terms of U.S economic activity, substantial reduction of our trade imbalance, the strength of the dollar. This affects everything.”


Natural gas prices hovering at historic lows are driving down electricity bills for many homeowners and keeping the global price of oil and gasoline relatively low. The increase in natural gas use has actually reduced our carbon footprint more effectively than anything the Obama administration has done; according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. emissions are set to end the year down 13.8 percent relative to 2005.


The natural gas revolution is giving new hope to America’s manufacturing industry, too. President Obama picked up the theme in his State of the Union address. “One of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy,” he said. “Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas.”


The U.S. State Department estimates that the Keystone XL Pipeline would create 42,000 jobs during the construction period alone and a significant number of permanent jobs thereafter, either directly or indirectly related to the natural gas industry. In fact, staffing the liquified natural gas facilities being built on the Gulf Coast and performing other tasks that the boom entails may create more work than the construction industry can handle.


There’s no question that the U.S. oil and gas boom can help make our country more secure in the world. It “will prolong the United States’ position as the predominant global superpower,” said David L. Goldwyn, founder of Goldwyn Global Strategies, an energy intelligence consultancy in Washington, D.C. “Arab nations that shook the world with the 1973 oil embargo almost certainly will be weakened. Russia will find its power ebb as European nations find alternate suppliers for natural gas. New energy technologies will reorder the scales of global winners and losers.”


America’s meteoric rise to the top of the charts is due to a horizontal drilling method called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” It isn’t without controversy, but the federal government has thus far contributed more than $100 million in research to develop fracking and billions more in tax breaks to support its continued use.


I’m glad that ecological concerns have not prevented us from unlocking vast natural gas reserves. Unfortunately, the Keystone XL Pipeline has been held up, even though the State Department has determined that the project would have minimal impact on the environment.


NECA CEO John Grau recently sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to approve the pipeline. 


“It will provide thousands of jobs in the construction and manufacturing sectors, including jobs for NECA contractors and their employees,” Grau said. 


Electrical contractors have the opportunity to build more than 23 pumping stations and substations associated with the pipeline and upgrade and modernize transmission lines that will surround the new facilities.


NECA believes the goal of energy independence is far too important to allow political considerations to restrict the use of any resource proven clean and safe. Also, bear in mind that there are ways for renewable energy and natural gas to work together. Renewable energy is delivered inconsistently, while natural gas can be turned on and off rapidly to fill in those gaps when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.


While our nation has not achieved total energy independence, we’re getting closer. With our country’s energy policy and economy continually evolving, NECA supports a responsible and comprehensive strategy that opens opportunities for all forms of energy and opportunities for all qualified electrical contractors.