Sasol, a fuel company based in South Africa, recently announced plans to invest up to $14 billion in a facility in Louisiana that will turn natural gas to diesel fuel, a bold—not to mention incredibly costly—project that represents one of the biggest foreign investments ever in the U.S. It’s not the only company eyeing the growing North American gas market. Shell is working with partner companies to develop bigger engines able to run on liquefied natural gas. In Canada, Calgary-based Encana Corp. recently closed a $2.2-billion deal with PetroChina to develop natural gas projects.
Increasingly, energy companies are betting natural gas will be North America’s future fuel as plentiful shale gas reserves are uncovered. Canada’s natural gas sector is on course to rival the oil sands, attracting up to $386 billion in investment, adding nearly $1 trillion to the economy and supporting about 131,000 jobs annually over the next 24 years, according to a Conference Board of Canada report. (The oil patch is expected to generate $364 billion in investments.) One U.S. estimate said shale gas development in the U.S. would create 870,000 jobs by 2015. Analysts say the one big threat to the industry now is too much of a good thing: a glut of gas pushing down prices.