The New York Times reports: The reversal of fortune in America’s energy supplies in recent years holds the promise of abundant and cheaper fuel, and it could have profound effects on what people drive, domestic manufacturing and America’s foreign policy.
Cheaper fuel produced domestically could reduce the cost of shipping and manufacturing, trim heating and cooling bills, improve the auto market and provide tens of thousands of new jobs.
It might also pose new environmental challenges, both predictable and unforeseen, by damping enthusiasm for clean forms of energy and derailing efforts to wean the nation from its wasteful energy habits.
But for Americans battered by rising gasoline prices, frustrated by the dependence on foreign oil, skeptical of the benefits or practicality of renewable fuels and afraid of nuclear power, the appeal of plentiful domestic oil and gas could far outweigh the costs.
Just a few years ago, the dominant theme in discussions about energy was of declining production and the fear of running out of oil. Even today, political tensions in the Middle East, particularly in the Persian Gulf, have fanned fears of supply disruptions that are keeping prices high.
But a new boom in energy production in recent years has upended these expectations in record time. High energy prices led to a wave of successful oil and gas exploration in North America, including in fields that were deemed uneconomical only a few years ago. Using techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, oil companies are tapping into deeply buried reserves in shale rocks and in the ocean’s depths.
The surge in energy prices, along with a recession and new government rules that tightened fuel-economy standards, led to a sharp cutback in gasoline consumption. This decline in demand in the last five years reversed decades of almost uninterrupted growth that made the United States the world’s top energy consumer, accounting for one in every four barrels of oil burned around the globe.
The North American energy revival is primarily the result of so-called unconventional sources of energy — like shale oil and shale gas across the United States, oil sands in Canada and deepwater production in the Gulf of Mexico. In the last five years, the United States and Canada combined have become the fastest-growing sources of new oil supplies around the world, overtaking producers like Russia and Saudi Arabia.
“The transformation unfolding in North America represents a potentially decisive shift in the history of energy,” Rex W. Tillerson, the chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil, who is not usually given to hyperbole, said in a speech in Houston last month.
Ed Morse, head of global commodity research at Citigroup and a longtime energy analyst, says North America has the potential to become a “new Middle East.”
“The reduced vulnerability of North America — and the world market — to oil price spikes also has deep consequences geopolitically, including the reduced strategic importance to the U.S. of changes in oil- and natural gas-producing countries worldwide,” Mr. Morse said in a recent 92-page report called Energy 2020. ”Pressures towards isolationism in the U.S. will likely grow, with consequences for global stability that can only just begin to become understood.”
“The only thing that could stop this is politics — environmentalists getting the upper hand over supply in the U.S., for instance,” the report said. [Continue reading…]