Everywhere you look, the news is filled with stories of spiraling prices, anemic economic growth and stalled financial recovery. And with the national unemployment rate currently at 9.6 percent, people throughout the country are faced with the dreaded prospect of a recession.
But there's a different story to be reported in Kansas, which is in the enviable position of attaining long-term economic growth. The state has the potential to build a secure energy future, achieve significant job increases and improve air quality by utilizing an abundant resource the state already has: natural gas.
Kansas is one of more than 30 states blessed with abundant supplies of clean, domestic natural gas. In fact, the United States has more natural gas than Saudi Arabia has oil.
The national payoff is considerable. The U.S. natural-gas community generated $385 billion in economic activity and 2.8 million jobs in 2008, according to IHS Global Insight.
And Kansas is in perfect position to take advantage of this growing national trend. The state ranks in the top 10 in natural-gas production, with natural gas supporting more than 20,000 Kansas jobs and $4.3 billion in economic activity. Kansas is also a net exporter of natural gas, and there is new production coming online. By contrast, the state produces a small fraction of the coal burned in Kansas power plants.
Kansas can achieve a level of energy independence by cultivating its own natural gas and employing power plants that use this abundant fuel. Used for power generation, natural gas has half the emissions of carbon dioxide, and has 80 percent less mono-nitrogen oxide emissions than coal, and virtually no sulfur dioxide, mercury or particulate matter. For transportation, natural gas is cleaner than gasoline and diesel and can help reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil.
Kansans can look to recent action in other states as they examine ways to create jobs and increase energy security. For example, American Municipal Power, which five years ago planned a coal-fired power plant in Ohio, recently elected instead to build a new natural-gas plant. It will provide clean power to 81 communities, and it will create jobs. This year, Colorado also moved to replace aging coal plants with cleaner energy sources such as natural gas after Gov. Bill Ritter signed the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, boosting the use of that state's vast natural-gas resource and creating jobs.
By leveraging proven and safe technologies, we're able to access previously unreachable resources. Natural gas also can help build and sustain long-term economic balance in Kansas.
New natural-gas power plants would add to the local job market, keeping employment opportunities right at home. And natural-gas companies won't be the only ones hiring. Many small local businesses — such as restaurants, hotels, suppliers and trucking companies — also stand to thrive with the influx of activity.
It is time that Kansas put this abundant, domestic energy source to greater use for the state's economy, security and environment.