WASHINGTON - Can increasing American energy exploration improve our economy? Yes, but more to the point, it's already happening.

Energy - and the jobs and growth it will drive - is the foundation for our economic recovery.

Our nation is blessed with some of the most abundant energy resources on Earth. Thanks in large part to the technology-driven shale boom, we have enough natural gas to power America for 120 years.

We also have at least 200 years of oil under our lands and off our shores and more than 250 years of coal. And that's just what we can recover with today's technology. With continued advancements, we will be able to access even greater domestic supplies.

According to a report sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Energy Institute, shale oil and natural gas development alone contributed $238 billion to our economy in 2012, and investments in shale reached $87 billion.

Shale development is on track to generate more than $2.5 trillion in government revenues by 2035 - including $62 billion in 2012. As our nation's leaders look for revenue, they must consider the contribution energy can make.

Energy spurs job creation in every state, and there are opportunities for much more. The report found that shale activity has already created 1.75 million jobs over the past several years, with an additional 1.25 million coming by 2020. Beyond shale, an additional 86,000 jobs could be created by 2020 by building the Keystone XL Pipeline, according to a Canadian Energy Research Institute study.

In addition, 85 percent of public lands onshore and offshore are off-limits to development, and a study by Wood Mackenzie shows that opening them up for exploration could create more than 500,000 jobs and $150 billion in government revenue by 2025.

Our nation can't afford not to move forward with oil and gas development. While job growth in the oil and gas industry has expanded by 38.6 percent since 2007, nonfarm employment has contracted by 2.6 percent in the period.

The unemployment rate would be in the double digits were it not for the oil and gas industry.

Energy can also help sharpen America's competitive edge in the global economy and improve our national security.

We can reduce the amount of oil we import, saving $200 billion a year, and become a more active player in global energy markets by exporting natural gas and coal. But we can't take this renaissance for granted. Industry needs a predictable and fair regulatory environment. There needs to be a gut check on the number of regulations that are strangling so many of our energy resources.

Energy presents the biggest opportunity to build a stronger foundation and a brighter future for our country. The 21st century has brought America an era of energy abundance. Let's make the most of it for the sake our economy, competitiveness and national security.

Yes: Prosperity depends on it

Editor's note

Every Monday we offer pro/con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service to give readers a broad view of issues.

Karen A. Harbert is president and chief executive officer of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.uschamber.com