President Obama called America the "Saudi Arabia of natural gas" Thursday and said the country should start using natural gas to power more cars and trucks.
Obama made the remarks in light of his decision to open nearly 38 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and natural gas extraction, saying that natural gas could support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.
"Because of new technologies, because we can now access natural gas that we couldn't access before in an economic way, we've got a supply of natural gas under our feet that can last America nearly a hundred years," he said.
Much of that gas—up to 4 trillion cubic feet, according to the Department of the Interior—lies beneath the Gulf of Mexico area that the administration will lease out starting in June.
According to the Department of Energy, the United States produced 21 percent of the world's natural gas in 2009. That share figures to increase over the next several years as Obama employs an "all-in, all-of-the-above" energy strategy.
Obama said the government is working with the private sector to build "natural gas corridors" along U.S. highways with natural gas fueling stations.
So far, American consumers haven't taken to natural gas-operated cars. According to the Department of Energy, the number of natural gas operated vehicles remained fairly stagnant between 2001 and 2009, hovering just above 110,000 nationwide, and only half of the 900 or so natural gas stations in the country are open to the public. By comparison, there were more than 160,000 conventional gas stations in 2009, according to the Department of Energy.
Natural gas as car fuel isn't a new idea—it's been used sporadically since the 1930s. Natural gas burns cleaner and has traditionally been cheaper than standard gasoline. It also gets similar gas mileage and driving performance as standard gasoline. But natural gas tanks take up more space in a car, leading to a lower overall range per tank, which is a huge problem considering the lack of refueling stations nationwide.
That's slowly changing. In 1998, Honda introduced the Civic GX, which runs on natural gas, in California, whose 215 natural gas refueling stations represent about a fifth of the nation's total. In September 2011, the company announced that it'd make the car available to 200 dealers in 35 states to "support growing consumer interest in alternative-fuel vehicles."