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The Abundance Business

Stocks in this article: CLNE WM CHK

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As a technology writer I have spent my career covering an abundance business.

For a generation, the chief task of technology companies has been making use of the computing abundance created by Moore's Law, which says that overall processing power for computers will double every two years.

New data types -- sound files, video files, high-definition video files -- have been created, manipulated and downloaded because we found we could. Each time a new source of abundance is discovered, the search begins for some way to make use of it.

Take big data. What do we do with all the Web log files, or customer interactions, or surveillance videos it now makes economic sense to collect? Start-ups like Trifacta are hard at work on that, using a combination of human intuition and brute-force computing to turn data into actionable knowledge, writes Gigaom.

But this is not a computing story. What happened in computing throughout my career is about to happen in energy and manufacturing. Those industries seem ill-equipped for what's coming.

Take natural gas, for instance. Prices have plunged in the last few years, and now hover in the $3.50/mcf range, according to the CME. There are hopes this will rise steadily over the next several years but they won't unless the problem of abundance is dealt with.

A drive through North Dakota will illustrate the problem. Natural gas is being flared, burned away at the wellhead, because there's no way for it to reach the market and not enough demand to make it worth transporting. As the Christian Science Monitor noted this summer, the flaring is visible from space.

We need infrastructure to deal with the abundance, but we first need demand in order to make the infrastructure pay.

Companies such as Clean Energy Fuels (CLNE), which is building a network of natural gas "gas stations," and CHS, which is building an ammonia plant in North Dakota with gas as the feedstock, , are probably more important to the future of the natural gas business than drillers including Chesapeake Energy (CHK), which get all the headlines.

We think of natural gas as money, just as we think of paper gains in stocks as money. But money isn't money until it's cash in your hand, until you sell and use that gas.

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