Natural Gas: Booming In The Beltway
DATE:2008-8-2  FROM:  AUTHOR:  DOWN:3403
The natural gas industry has been turning up the heat this summer in the nation's capital. Advocates are explaining to lawmakers that while oil is expensive, scarce and imported, there's enough natural gas in the U.S. supply to last more than 100 years.

One example: Aubrey McClendon, Forbes 400 member and chief executive of Chesapeake Energy (nyse: CHK - news - people ), the second-largest independent producer of natural gas in the country. Speaking at a Congress hearing Wednesday, he sounded more like someone in the business of political snake oil.

"Imagine if tomorrow you could announce a new energy plan that would in one stroke cut your constituent's gasoline bill in half, reduce our oil imports, improve our air quality, enhance national security, strengthen the dollar, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create tens of thousands of new jobs in the U.S," McClendon said. "I believe your upcoming reelection chances would be even higher than they already are."

Smooth. McClendon and other panelists at the hearing, convened by the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, want Congress to know that natural gas can have a more prominent role in America's energy future.

Several lawmakers seemed convinced, describing natural gas as "a precious resource," a bridge to a renewable energy future--and a replacement for coal.

Some are already on the bandwagon. Earlier this month, Reps. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., and Dan Boren, D-Okla., introduced a bill that aims to have 10% of all vehicles in the U.S. by 2018 powered by natural gas. In addition to providing tax credits for producers and consumers, it would require gas stations owned by Big Oil to install at least one natural gas pump.

Also this week, the American Clean Skies Foundation (ACSF)--a pro-natural gas think tank founded by McClendon--and Navigant Consulting (nyse: NCI - news - people ) released a study showing that the U.S. domestic supply of natural gas is above official government estimates. The reason? Modern technology has made it possible to draw natural gas from shale formations spread across the country.

The public relations campaign for natural gas is already on a roll. In April, the ACSF started an online video channel,, devoted to clean energy, particularly natural gas. In September, Chesapeake will soon launch, another video site devoted to natural gas drilling. And billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens, now touting wind energy as a fix for electricity generation, favors natural gas as a way to alleviate the transportation sector's dependence on oil.

Investors in natural gas stocks may want to use the bullish Beltway outlook as an opportunity to do some buying

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