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With all this natural gas, who needs oil?

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"My wife loves it – she's already saving $180 a month," he says. "What I don't understand is what we are doing sending billions of dollars overseas to buy oil when we've got a 100-year supply of natural gas right under our feet?"

Neither do many others. Natural gas has suddenly become almost everyone's favorite chassis for building an energy independent future. Many people on both sides of the drilling divide view the current abundance of the low-cost fuel as a "global game changer" – an energy source that will help wean the United States off Mideast oil, alter the nation's foreign policy, spur jobs and boost the economy, and reduce greenhouse gases.

President Obama has pledged to "take every possible action to safely develop this energy." Mitt Romney calls the domestic gas "a godsend." Energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens, an early natural gas booster, contends it's "obvious" that Washington should enact policies to encourage natural gas production and use throughout the economy.

"Do we have to take advantage of this?" asks Mr. Pickens, with his characteristic Texas Panhandle pragmatism. "Well, if you don't, you're going to go down in history as the biggest fools that ever came to town."

Almost since the birth of the Industrial Age, Americans have fixated at one time or another on different answers to the country's energy needs. Oil has always been the constant, but the splitting of the atom led to talk of a nuclear-powered economy. Coal, because of its abundance, was once a king. In the 1970s, a roster of renewables – solar, geothermal, wind, waves – inspired visions of a post-Mideast, self-sufficient utopia.

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