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Shale Continues to Drive U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance

By now we all know that the development of American energy resources from shale remains a major economic engine for our country, responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the nation. But another important (and under-told) benefit of the “shale revolution” is its role in resuscitating America’s previously declining manufacturing base.

Last month, a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers highlighted how affordable, domestic supplies of natural gas will save U.S. manufacturers more than $11 billion per year over the next decade, in addition to creating a million new jobs during that same period. This affordable energy supply is also projected to increase disposable income for each household in the United States by as much as $2,000 per year.

So it should be no surprise, although still worth highlighting, that a new report from the White House shows how domestic manufacturing, after years of stagnation and decline, is finally on the rebound. From that report:

The manufacturing sector has recovered faster than the rest of the economy, supporting growth and job creation. Over the past two years, the economy has added 334,000 manufacturing jobs — the strongest two-year period of manufacturing job growth since the late 1990s. Manufacturing production has surged 5.7% on an annualized basis since its low in June of 2009, the fastest pace of growth of production in a decade.

And what, according to the White House, is driving that recovery?

A boom in natural gas production has supported manufacturing: The surge in domestic natural gas production can lower energy costs, reduce pollution and drive investment in the industries that supply equipment the natural gas sector and those that use natural gas as an input to production, like the chemical industry. Recent data from the Energy Information Administration indicate that by the end of 2011 natural gas extraction increased by over 24% since 2006.

Later in the report, under the heading “America’s Natural Resource Boom,” the White House report describes how expanded natural gas production, particularly from shale, has “led to rapidly growing domestic production and relatively low domestic prices for households and downstream industrial users.”

The Washington Post echoed the good news about America’s energy-led manufacturing rebirth in an editorial that ran yesterday:

The White House briefing paper that accompanied the “insourcing” event attributes much of the rebound in manufacturing to the boom in domestic natural gas production, made possible by new “fracking” technologies. The federal government didn’t do much specifically to promote fracking. Yet the process has dramatically cut the price of gas, a key industrial input, and led to spinoff employment in related industries. The White House notes that more of such development, appropriately regulated, could have “substantial” benefits to the U.S. economy. Even in a polarized Washington, everyone should be able to agree on that.

Candidly, we’re not all that interested in the specific politics of the matter, but it’s worth noting the Post’s observation that the federal government “didn’t do much” to promote developing natural gas from shale — and yet, voila!, here we are. Opponents of shale have for years labored under the delusion that the EPA should be in charge of directly regulating the process of hydraulic fracturing, calling for heavy-handed federal control on the misguided assumption that only such a system will guarantee the broadest possible benefits.

But as this White House report makes clear, shale development and hydraulic fracturing (which has been tightly regulated by the states for decades) is creating jobs and revitalizing one of America’s proudest and most critical industries. And as ANGA points out, the natural gas production at the center of this manufacturing renaissance is being done in a “safe and responsible manner,” thereby removing any need to choose between a strong economy and a clean environment.

With these facts clearly established, the question for critics is: Why should we jeopardize this bright spot in an otherwise troubled economy — facilitated by responsible, state-based rules and regulations — with a one-size-fits-all, Washington-centered regulatory regime?

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