WASHINGTON - Let's not smother the shale-gas boom. It is the crown jewel of the disappointing economic recovery.
Why tamper with success?
Yet there are those who argue that the benefits of shale gas could be maximized if we restricted gas exports, mainly as liquefied natural gas. This would, it's argued, keep prices low for U.S. consumers and manufacturers, contributing powerfully to the revival of American industry.
It isn't. Limiting LNG exports might initially cut prices, but the long-run consequences would be perverse.
By depressing prices, we might kill the boom. Production would become less profitable or unprofitable, and new drilling would slow or stop.
This is not just supply and demand. It's also history.
From 1954 to the early 1990s, the federal government regulated prices for interstate natural gas. Prices were held artificially low.
"Shortages" developed in the 1970s; drilling suffered.
The shale gas boom - the most important energy event in decades - is mostly a market phenomenon.
The drilling techniques to extract gas from tight formations long considered uneconomic were first demonstrated by a small Texas company, Mitchell Energy. Other firms then perfected these techniques: "fracking" - injecting formations with highly pressurized liquids - and horizontal drilling.
Government agencies are studying whether added environmental regulation of fracking and wastewater disposal is needed. So far, hazards seem manageable.
Mainly, the boom should be left alone to build on its considerable gains. Since 2000, U.S. natural gas production has risen by a quarter, with the increase coming mostly from shale gas. From 2000 to 2012, its share of production zoomed from less than 2 percent to 34 percent.
By 2040, the Energy Information Administration, the source of these figures, expects overall gas production to increase by nearly 40 percent. Shale gas' share would rise to about half.
By one study, the gas boom has created nearly 500,000 jobs for producers and their suppliers. Surging output has reduced wellhead prices more than half from stratospheric 2008 levels. In 2012, residential gas bills (which also cover transportation and distribution costs) are down 21 percent from 2008.
Manufacturers consume about a third of U.S. natural gas as both a heating fuel and a petrochemical feedstock.
Low prices are promoting investment by energy-intensive firms. Companies have announced at least 100 new projects or expansions worth an estimated $90 billion, estimates Dow Chemical.