Commentary: A new look at natural gas

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

One touch of warmth in a gloomy economy and a chilly February: Natural gas customers in North Carolina are getting a break on their heating bills.

Because sinking worldwide prices for natural gas have translated into rate decreases under state Utilities Commission regulations, residents who heat with gas are paying about a third less per therm than they did at last year's peak. Heating bills are still a handful, but the discount is welcome, even if its cause – a global recession – certainly is not.

The longer-term question about natural gas is this: Is there a pricing level that doesn't overburden consumers but does provide sufficient incentive for sustained exploration and development of new U.S. natural gas supplies? If so, there could be major benefits for consumers, the gas industry and the environment.

That's because it's becoming clear that energy companies could increase production of natural gas in the United States, onshore, and close to centers of consumption.

If natural gas is as abundant as the industry claims – more about that below – the fuel might even take over some of coal's role in generating electricity.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.