The two most imminent issues affecting the continued prosperity of the U.S. are easily solved by each other.

Former President Bill Clinton noted in an address at the Rodman & Renshaw investment conference in New York in November that individuals have wagered against the success of America since the American Revolution. “People have always predicted the demise of America…Everyone who has invested against America has lost…We keep stumbling in the right direction.”

Fortunately, again, the solution is simple and obvious. Work out this economic downcycle while achieving energy independence, which would help assure the U.S. has the strongest economy in the world 10, 20, 30 and 50 years from now, when nations that depend on crude oil but lack any or sufficient domestic supply vie amongst other have-nots for the fuel from what have been historically hostile and virulent countries.

The answer to the economy can be energy itself.

Clinton’s idea is a type of make-work program that is a preface to T. Boone Pickens’ plan for natural gas. Simply put, Clinton suggests engaging the American workforce in converting existing energy demand to greater efficiency, some innovations being as simple as installing motion-sensor light switches in public buildings.

The other part of the deal is to legislate greater efficiency in use of energy supply— that is, to promote the highest- and most indigenous- Btu supply to its best use. U.S. use of natural gas has been historically wasteful. Having a higher Btu content than crude oil or its byproducts, natural gas is increasingly used for generation of electricity, which evaporates when not used.

Suggestions on the dais most often involve conversion to electricity-powered cars, but this requires conversion of high-Btu gas into electricity, and what is not used is wasted. Instead, conversion of the greatest portion of the U.S. transportation system to compressed natural gas (CNG) puts the high- Btu-content fuel directly into automobiles, and closes the tap until the next fill-up.

Meanwhile, efforts toward installing gas taps, retrofitting existing vehicles and making ready-for-CNG ones going forward represent legislated “make work” but, like American infrastructure improvements of the 1930s, will produce great economic advantage— and actually have street value as CNG parts and vehicles become fungible.

Enter a side story: the upside-down U.S. automotive industry. Obviously, conversion to CNG would provide American autoworkers— and not just those employed by indigenous companies, but all U.S. autoworkers— with new tasks, and result in patent and best-practice leadership globally.

And enter another side story: the globalwarming scare. Natural gas has a carbon footprint, in that it does contain some carbon, yet it is significantly less than that of crude oil and normal uses of coal, and especially when factoring how little is needed to achieve the same fuel-supply goal.

Melanie Kenderdine, associate director, MIT Energy Initiative and a former vice president of the Gas Technology Institute, notes that natural gas is both a CO2-mitigation option and a target for mitigation.

In the past, natural gas as a transportation fuel has been rejected by Washington due to its belief that there was too little indigenous supply, which would merely result in U.S. conversion from relying on a caustic oil cartel that can stronghold supply and prices to relying on a relatively unknown gas cartel that could do the same.

Yet, U.S. natural gas explorationists have proven abundant resources in the Lower 48, where infrastructure is at the ready to take it to markets; in Alaska from which only a pipeline is needed; and from a normally good neighbor, Canada. There are 2,000 trillion cubic feet of known unconventional gas resources in North America, and the number is likely to soon be revised upward, according to Kenderdine.

Current demand is 22 trillion per year, thus some 100 years of indigenous gas supply is available at the current rate of use.

In summation, the U.S. has abundant natural gas supply. The economy has been crushed in part by US$147 crude oil and US$4-plus pump prices. Relations with foreign oil producers can be toxic. The U.S. auto industry has become a world laggard. And, some Americans are convinced that people can reverse Earth’s warming trend.

The solution? Put the economy to work at converting energy demand to natural gas.

–Nissa Darbonne, Executive Editor, Oil and Gas Investor, A&D Watch, Oil and Gas Investor This Week, OilandGasInvestor.com, A-Dcenter.com; ndarbonne@hartenergy.com