01/23/2013 11:34 am ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

Within Grasp: Exciting New Energy Future

The world is witnessing the dawn of a new era in energy production. And manufacturers -- who innovate, engineer and supply the tools needed to extract, capture, generate, store and transport that energy -- are at the forefront.

Thanks to their innovation and engineering, a surge in shale oil and natural gas production in the U.S. has put energy independence in the nation's sights. In fact, it is causing the world to redraw its global energy map, as well as the financial and political maps inevitably influenced by the world's intense demand for energy.

On Nov. 12, the world took notice when The International Energy Agency released its annual World Energy Outlook, which captured headlines worldwide with its prediction that by 2020 the U.S. would overtake Saudi Arabia as the largest global oil producer. It was memorialized this way by The New York Times: "U.S. to Be World's Top Oil Producer in 5 Years, Report Says."

ME Senior Editor James Sawyer laid witness to this development on a recent visit to Pittsburgh, an old hotbed of energy production and manufacturing made new again by fracking in the Marcellus Shale play, calling it "Houston on the Monongahela."

Sawyer witnessed firsthand what the IEA said in that report: "Energy developments in the United States are profound and their effect will be felt well beyond North America -- and the energy sector."

Indeed, this explosion of North American oil and gas development will be a hot topic at SME's HOUSTEX event in Houston Feb. 26-28.

Chad Moutray, Chief Economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, wrote in our January issue that the development of the nation's shale gas resources could create one million new manufacturing jobs by 2025. What's more, he wrote that our nation's low industrial energy costs, partly driven by the increasing supply of energy, offset other cost disadvantages here, which is ultimately helping to drive reshoring of manufacturing.

But it's not just the very real explosion of fracking in the U.S. that's causing all the buzz. New energy innovations are cropping up in wind, solar and elsewhere, even fossil fuels, as companies "go green," not just to be politically correct, but because they are concerned about global warming and believe that energy is the next frontier in the lean movement.

Last fall, I was in Japan, whose shift away from nuclear power will undoubtedly lead to even more innovations as the country tries to develop new sources of energy and new ways of saving it. While there, machine-maker DMG / Mori Seiki, which has opened an "energy solution park" in Germany, briefly showed off its Gildemeister WindCarrier, an innovative gearless wind turbine meant to help manufacturers power their facilities through brownouts and whatever other disruptions often come their way. That power can further be stored in the company's CellCube, which it boasted is "the battery system of the future."

There are risks to this happy new energy future, of course. The increasing output of shale oil and natural gas is disrupting the energy market and hurting the case for renewables, which is why that industry has been celebrating the extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a subject of this month's NewsDesk.

Meanwhile, those on the fracking frontier, where there is always a risk of accident, must be careful to take seriously their efforts to protect the environment as they go about their business. Last month, the movie, The Promised Land, was released. It stars Matt Damon as a salesman trying to convince poor residents of a small town to sell the drilling rights to their properties, and it may raise fears about fracking and its impact on water supplies.

The impact of such concerns should not be taken lightly. A December Wall Street Journal article, "Global Gas Push Stalls," showed that environmental concerns are a major obstacle for U.S. energy firms trying to expand their shale oil and natural gas business to plays outside of North America.

But that old saying "You can't stop progress" is relevant here. The genie is out of the bottle and, regardless of whatever protests or regulations may come, a new energy era is upon us.

Contact Sarah A. Webster: