According to many experts, the United States stands to be the Saudi Arabia of natural gas production. Last month, the New York Times reported otherwise, questioning the economics of shale gas extraction and overstating the amount of gas available in the vast formation in the United States.

The story included links to hundreds of e-mails from some independent energy executives and state geologists calling shale gas a Ponzi scheme and inducing fears of another Enron-like scandal or a subprime mortgage crisis. Yesterday, the Energy Information Administration’s Howard Gruenspecht testified Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee defending the federal government’s estimates. Gruenspecht said:

I believe EIA is doing a solid job of effectively tracking the emergence of shale gas in the U.S. energy system and thoughtfully reflecting that in our projections. We’re very comfortable with where we are. We’ve seen nothing in the New York Times report that would cause us to change our view.

Gruenspecht wasn’t the only one to criticize the report. Energy in Depth, which represents America’s natural gas and oil producers, thoroughly takes the Times piece to task, labeling it the newspaper’s “‘Dewey-Defeats-Truman’ Moment on Shale.” In fact, at the same hearing yesterday, Ernest Moniz from MIT defended his team’s study that had promising predictions for shale gas production that used data from government agencies and other independent data sources. Moniz calls shale gas production a “game-changer,” and the MIT study projects that the United States has 92 years’ worth of natural gas at current consumption rates.

Natural gas in the United States is an important source of energy, and increasing production can help meet rising energy demand, increase jobs, and drive economic growth. Several states have already tremendously benefited from increased production. Professor Timothy J. Considine estimates that the total value added in gross regional production to Pennsylvania and West Virginia from production in the Marcellus shale formation was $4.8 billion, and the production generated over 57,000 jobs in 2009 alone. A recent study from the Manhattan Institute approximates that ending New York’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing would create up to 18,000 jobs in the Southern Tier and western New York and increase economic activity by $11.4 billion.

In either case (an abundance of shale gas or no shale gas in the United States), there is no reason for policymakers to unreasonably increase regulations that make it difficult or impossible for investors and energy companies to pursue natural gas production. Nor is having an abundance of natural gas a reason to subsidize the production of it. Natural gas policy should focus on increasing access and opening markets, not unreasonably increasing regulations. This would allow natural gas production to succeed or fail on its own.