Natural GasMake no mistake about it: the American economy is in the throes of the longest, most protracted recovery since the Great Depression. But there is an industry offering a beacon of hope, and it could soon serve as the tipping point that gets America back to work: natural gas.

With the onset of new technologies to get to natural gas, this once-underappreciated commodity is now viewed as the key to weaning the U.S. from our heavy oil consumption and crucial to providing energy independence (in as little as 20 years, by some estimates).

As much as "energy independence" has a nice ring to it, even better is what it's going to take to achieve it. Converting the country to natural gas will require lots of hard work -- and lots of workers -- which is exactly what the U.S. needs to pull it out of the unemployment doldrums.

The Case for Conversion

In 2011 the U.S. Energy Information Administration came out with their projections for fuel cost trends during the next 25 years. Consider these estimates, which show the cost for one gallon of petroleum-based fuels as opposed to a gallon-equivalent of natural gas fuels:

Natural Gas
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2011.
Natural gas assumes 7.9 gallons per 1,000 cubic feet
.


As you can see, the advantages of switching to natural gas are clear. So long as a gallon gas equivalent of natural gas costs significantly less than petroleum-based fuels, there will be growing demand for vehicles that run on natural gas.
The switch is already taking place, too: The first industry that's taken the leap of faith on natural gas is trucking.

Westport Innovations (WPRT) designs engines that can run solely on natural gas. Lately, the company has announced a number of joint ventures, partnerships, and orders. The company already has a profitable joint venture with manufacturer Cummins (CMI). And that joint venture just won a contract from trucking giant Navistar (NAV).

While what's happening at Westport, Cummins, and the like is a strong indication that the conversion to natural gas is speeding up significantly, these companies alone can't employ enough Americans to accelerate a recovery.

The jobs -- the big jobs that will put droves of Americans back to work -- will be in infrastructure.

Natural GasThe next great build-out

Right now there are only 1,100 natural gas filling stations in the country. That's less than 1% of the total number of fueling locations nationwide.

Clean Energy Fuels (CLNE) is currently putting enough natural gas stations on the interstate system to support the trucking industry. But it won't be enough once it becomes clear to the broader public that the switchover to natural gas is a smart, cost-effective move.

Other industries will soon follow to keep up with demand. When that happens, construction will need to ramp up on a huge scale to start adding fueling stations throughout the country. That, in turn, will create a bevy of new jobs.

If you don't think that sounds like enough to help jump-start our economy, consider these facts:

  • About 40% of jobs lost during the recession came from a contraction in construction -- 2 million directly from construction workers being out of work, and 1.6 million due to those unemployed workers cutting back on spending.
  • Even if the natural gas station build-out equates to just 33% of the total number of standard gas stations in America, roughly 39,000 stations would need to be built, providing hundreds of thousands of new jobs to laborers, contractors, and sub-contractors. While 33% is a long way to go from where we are today, if the natural gas revolution gets traction, that's where we're headed.
  • This doesn't even touch on the demand for labor from natural gas extractors that's to be expected, or the possibilities of jobs created through the exportation of natural gas.

Obviously, this conversion won't happen overnight. But where there are incentives to switch over to natural gas, developments have been accelerating.

Right now, the chronically unemployed and underemployed can use any good news they can get their hands on. The stars will soon be aligning for these folks, and that should be music to all of our ears.

Motley Fool contributor Brian Stoffel owns shares of Westport Innovations. You can follow him on Twitter at @TMFStoffel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Westport Innovations and Cummins.


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caohellsux1978

Poor misguided public. Its cheap now cause we dont use. T Boone Pickens says he is filling his tank with natural gas at about 1 dollar per gallon. Wait until it replaces oil, and see if its every bit as expensive, or even more. do you honestly think Wall Street, GolDAMN Nut Sachs, and XXXon/Mobil are going to let you have cheap energy?????
You know who one of the biggest investors in natural gas is right now? XXXon/Mobil is investing millions in it. Do you honestly think for one minute that XXXon/Mobil is going to give up billion dollar quarterly profits so you can have cheap energy? LMFAO WHAT A JOKE!!!!!!!! Until we get off our a@@es and take control of this situation you will pay what XXXon/Mobil, GolDAMN Nut Sachs, and Wall Street tell you to pay...........AND YOU WILL LIKE IT!!!!

March 02 2012 at 11:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
caohellsux1978

Poor misguided public. Its cheap now cause we dont use. T Boone Pickens says he is filling his tank with natural gas at about 1 dollar per gallon. Wait until it replaces oil, and see if its every bit as expensive, or even more. do you honestly think Wall Street, GolDAMN Nut Sachs, and XXXon/Mobil are going to let you have cheap energy?????
You know who one of the biggest investors in natural gas is right now? XXXon/Mobil is investing millions in it. Do you honestly think for one minute that XXXon/Mobil is going to give up billion dollar quarterly profits so you can have cheap energy? LMFAO WHAT A JOKE!!!!!!!! Until we get off our a@@es and take control of this situation you will pay what XXXon/Mobil, GolDAMN Nut Sachs, and Wall Street tell you to pay...........AND YOU WILL LIKE IT!!!!

March 02 2012 at 11:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
caohellsux1978

Poor misguided public. Its cheap now cause we dont use. T Boone Pickens says he is filling his tank with natural gas at about 1 dollar per gallon. Wait until it replaces oil, and see if its every bit as expensive, or even more. do you honestly think Wall Street, GolDAMN Nut Sachs, and XXXon/Mobil are going to let you have cheap energy?????
You know who one of the biggest investors in natural gas is right now? XXXon/Mobil is investing millions in it. Do you honestly think for one minute that XXXon/Mobil is going to give up billion dollar quarterly profits so you can have cheap energy? LMFAO WHAT A JOKE!!!!!!!! Until we get off our a@@es and take control of this situation you will pay what XXXon/Mobil, GolDAMN Nut Sachs, and Wall Street tell you to pay...........AND YOU WILL LIKE IT!!!!

March 02 2012 at 11:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
caohellsux1978

Poor misguided public. Its cheap now cause we dont use. T Boone Pickens says he is filling his tank with natural gas at about 1 dollar per gallon. Wait until it replaces oil, and see if its every bit as expensive, or even more. do you honestly think Wall Street, GolDAMN Nut Sachs, and XXXon/Mobil are going to let you have cheap energy?????
You know who one of the biggest investors in natural gas is right now? XXXon/Mobil is investing millions in it. Do you honestly think for one minute that XXXon/Mobil is going to give up billion dollar quarterly profits so you can have cheap energy? LMFAO WHAT A JOKE!!!!!!!! Until we get off our a@@es and take control of this situation you will pay what XXXon/Mobil, GolDAMN Nut Sachs, and Wall Street tell you to pay...........AND YOU WILL LIKE IT!!!!

March 02 2012 at 11:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Russell Bennett

Oil Companys make about 8% profit. they pay dividends to mostly 401ks including mine.
Apple makes about 50% on their products and do not pay any dividends.They also make more then the oil Companys.
Some how Apple is not on anyones hate list..Just Wall Street, Banks, Mortage Companys And Rich People.

February 28 2012 at 11:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hello Carol

Not with Obuma as president, we will never see us use our own resources and low energy prices again. If he gets re-elected, our pocketbooks will be crushed by high energy prices, the likes this country has never seen before!

February 28 2012 at 1:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
wlouche

Natural gas companies will be the same as oil companies, gouging America for share holder profits.

February 28 2012 at 9:07 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
wlouche

Natural gas companies will be the same as oil companies, gouging America for share holder profits.

February 28 2012 at 9:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert

Now we just have to get it to a distribution point, maybe a pipeline. Oh yeah,
Obama canceled a planned pipeline. A shameless attemt to lobby the enviromentalist vote.

February 28 2012 at 8:24 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert's comment
chris1011

Are you normally this stoopid or is this a special day?

February 28 2012 at 4:16 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
larry

back in 1967 my neighbors dad drove a new Buick Electra with a 455 rocket that ran on LP or regular gas and all he had to do was flip a switch on the dash to switch from one to the other this is not new technology. He had this as he was a salesman for the LP company. It's funny because a gallon of regular gas cost about $.20 a gallon back then (HELLO)

February 28 2012 at 7:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply