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U.S. fuel boom likely to stabilize but not lower costs

The U.S. is awash in newfound petroleum and natural gas courtesy of oil field drilling technologies that promise to make the nation energy self-sufficient within the next few years.

Just don't expect cheaper gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, propane, heating oil or any other fossil fuel-based products as a result.

Even as the nation's access to fossil fuel resources grows, American consumers are competing with nearly everyone else on the planet for energy. That energy — even what is developed here at home — tends to go wherever in the world the money is.

"Price, in this free-market system, allocates supply. It goes to the highest bidder," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch & Associates, an oil trading and advisory firm in Chicago. "Like everything in economics, it's a moving target."

About the only thing industry watchers agree on is that America's new petroleum supplies will likely bring about a period of stability in energy markets. "We're going to see much more stability than we have seen in the last 25 years," Ritterbusch said.

In a country where petroleum touches nearly everything, that stability is welcome.

"Unfortunately, this bigger-picture macroeconomic concept will be lost on fuel consumers, who only see what they pay at the pump," said Ethan Bellamy, a petroleum market analyst for Robert W. Baird & Co.

It might be lost, too, on people who had to buy propane this winter or who opened their heating bills and nearly fell over.

Shale gas is natural gas that is found within shale rock formations. Shale gas production in the United States has gone from virtually nothing in 2000 to more than 25.7 billion cubic feet per day in 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

"The price in Europe is still more than double what customers are paying here in the U.S.," said Gale Klappa, head of Wisconsin Energy Corp., Wisconsin's largest electric and gas utility.

Those prices will eventually catch up to each other, he said.

"Markets tend to be global these days, so when you see a price differential like that, eventually over time those price differentials will narrow," Klappa said.

Demand for natural gas also is expected to grow, whether from increased use for electricity generation or for truck fleets.

And, like just about every type of petroleum product in the United States, exports of natural gas also are expected to grow.

Analysts say the U.S. will export more natural gas than it consumes as soon as 2016 or 2017.

U.S. fuel boom likely to stabilize but not lower costs 02/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 7:40pm]
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