Something is badly needed to get the economy moving again and avoid another slowdown.
The good news is that cheaper gas could be the answer. America has hit the energy jackpot with new techniques to extract oil and gas from shale.
The recent widespread use of a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," and improved drilling technologies such as horizontal completion to harvest gas from shale, could provide a much-needed economic boost.
Shale extraction represents one of the most important developments for the economy in the last 60 years. It's pushing down energy prices and creating many new opportunities for jobs, investments and manufacturing.
And the new innovations are unique to the United Sates. Although other countries will exploit shale, none will come close to the low costs in the U.S. That's because the U.S. has a unique governmental structure in which many powers remain with the states, along with a very competitive market for the product, as opposed to the monopolies and oligopolies that control the market in almost every other country.
While it may sound like the latest energy fad, the shale boom is for real and a serious game changer because of its size and potential longevity. Based on equivalent amounts of energy, natural gas has been about half as expensive as oil for many years.
The Energy Information Administration now predicts gas will be only a quarter or a fifth of the cost of oil through 2030, a big enough price difference to overcome the disadvantages of gas, such as its lower energy intensity by volume.
How did the situation change? Was it because of the tax advantages given to the large oil companies? In fact, no. Big oil largely gave up on drilling onshore in the U.S. to concentrate on finding big fields in other countries or offshore.
But small, innovative companies continued to drill for gas and oil here at home and figured out how to drill sideways and use computer technology to find deposits and extract them. Financial markets helped make this happen because small drillers could sell oil and gas using futures contracts and protect themselves against wild price swings.
The prospect of cheap gas for years to come is already spurring investment. Waste Management Inc. is investing in natural gas trucks that cost $30,000 more but save $27,000 a year in fuel costs.