The debt ceiling debate drones on, the economy remains stuck and overseas, Greece is practically in default. Anyone else out there starving for some good economic news?

How about this: America's oil and natural gas companies continue showing strength despite a weak economy. That means well-paying jobs, revenues to governments and investment growth for millions of Americans - all combining for an economic contribution that challenges Washington's idea of stimulus.

Call it the energy stimulus: $476 billion in direct support to the economy in 2010 - roughly equal to 60 percent of the 2009 federal stimulus (which actually is being dispensed to the economy over a number of years). It's a stimulus that didn't need an act of Congress and which, with the right policies, can be repeated over and over - helping to lead broader economic recovery.

Breakout details, from API's compilation of public data, independent analysis and corporate annual reports:

  • $266 billion in money returned to the economy in the form of spending on new energy projects, improvements to existing projects and enhancements of refinery and other downstream operations.
  • $176 billion paid to 2.1 million U.S. employees in wages and salaries, plus benefits and payments to oil and natural gas leaseholders.
  • About $35 billion in dividends distributed to American shareholders.

In addition, the oil and natural gas industry contributes about $86 million a day to governments in taxes, royalties and other fees - about $31 billion a year.

There's more. When you count indirect contributions, the energy stimulus is even larger, totaling $1.1 trillion or 7.7 percent of America's gross domestic product in 2009 (using the most recent data). These contributions include industry spending and investment that support manufacturing, transportation, technology, accounting services and more.

This is American energy at work. API's Kyle Isakower, vice president for regulatory & economic policy:

"These benefits ... drive economic progress and translate into millions of jobs supported, vast amounts of retirement income protected and billions in government revenue generated. ... The industry's stimulus benefits are much greater than its earnings, perhaps by a factor of 3 to 1 or more even when earnings are at higher levels."

Again, in an economy where a number of sectors are struggling to get on their feet, the energy industry is strong and ready to do more. Isakower:

"We produce at home about 43 percent of the oil we consume. Producing more of that oil and more of our natural gas here in the United States would deliver more benefits to our economy as well as improve our energy security. Good policy, such as increasing access, can facilitate that. Unwise policy, such as increasing taxes, would hamper it."

Studies support Isakower's analysis. A 2011 Quest report estimates 190,000 new jobs supported by Gulf of Mexico activities if drilling there returned to pre-2010 levels. A Wood Mackenzie study calculates 530,000 new jobs could be created nationwide with the right policies on access. A 2010 Natural Resource Economics analysis estimates 282,000 new jobs in developing Marcellus Shale gas in New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. A 2011 Canadian Energy Research Institute report estimates more than 500,000 new jobs could be created from Canadian oil sands operations and development of associated infrastructure in the U.S.

That's the energy stimulus - beneficial and repeatable, ready to work for America right now.