Fracking will make the United States the largest supplier of oil and gas in the world by 2023, Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency said at the CERAWeek energy conference hosted by IHS Markit in Houston last week.
“What is happening in the US between now and 2025 [is] a huge expansion of oil production, about 80% of the global oil production growth comes from the US. It exceeds the huge expansion of Saudi Arabia which we witnessed in the 1960s and 70s,” he told The Guardian before the conference began. “Non-OPEC supply growth is very, very strong, which will change a lot of parameters of the oil market in the next years to come,” Birol told the press in Houston. “We are going to see a major second wave of U.S. shale production coming.”
A Brief History Of Oil
The United States started the whole oil thing in 1859 when George Bissell and Edwin L. Drake drilled the first commercial oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. American oil helped the US become a major player on the world stage. Oil, and access to it, has geopolitical consequences. The thirst for oil was a major factor in Japan’s expansionist policies prior to World War II and fueled European colonial adventurism in North Africa and the Middle East.
After World War II, Saudi Arabia and its neighbors on the Arabian peninsular amassed tremendous wealth and influence from supplying oil to the world. America’s oil and gas resources began to wane in the latter part of the 20th century, making it dependent on imports from other countries. After OPEC shut off the spigot in the 70s, regaining America’s energy independence became a central component of US domestic policy. Then came fracking.
First discovered in the middle of the last century, fracking came of age in the 1990s. The process involves pumping water containing a mixture of sand and chemicals deep underground under very high pressure. That pressure causes fractures in shale formations under the surface of the earth. Oil and gas can then flow through those fissures to the surface. The sand is used to help prop the fractures open and the chemicals are intended to facilitate movement in the shale formations.
In the US, what exactly fracking companies are putting into the ground is a zealously guarded trade secret. Some US states make it a crime to divulge the chemicals used, but in tests by the EPA, the most common chemicals are methanol, hydrochloric acid, and hydro-treated light petroleum distillates.
What are petroleum distillates? Your guess is as good as mine, but a recent shipping accident in China released millions of gallons of it into the ocean in what is being called the worst oil spill at sea in history. I’m pretty sure none of the fossil fuel advocates meeting in Houston would care to drink a glassful of petroleum distillates, although all of them would swear up and down that they are perfectly safe.
Horizontal drilling techniques perfected near the end of the last century have led to the explosion of oil and gas production in the US. It allows companies to drill several horizontal boreholes from one central well, “like tributaries off a river” according to The Guardian. The technique maximizes the amount of oil and gas that can be recovered from a single well. Fracking can also be used to unlock more oil and gas from old wells that have declined in production.
Oil Euphoria In Houston
The oil patch kids congregating in Houston are over the moon with joy at the news that the US will now be the tail that wags the fossil fuel dog, at least in the short term. China reportedly has many times the reserves the US has, but has declined to exploit them as of yet because of the unmitigated damage to the environment extracting and burning them would cause. The US, on the other hand, doesn’t care a flying fig about the environment. There are profits to be made and nothing can be allowed to interfere with that.
In fact, US fossil fuel companies have been euphoric at the support for their nefarious plans they have received from the Trump maladministration. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been instrumental in formulating plans to remove the protected status of many federal lands, including the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Think Progress reports the New York Times has uncovered several e-mails between Zinke and fossil fuel companies promising to strip protection of those lands so the oil, gas, and coal reserves buried beneath them can be exploited.
The braying jackass in the White House is ecstatic, making himself out to be the savior of the American oil and gas industry. The IEA puts the kibosh on those claims by pointing out rising demand and higher prices for oil and gas are largely responsible for the current state of affairs. But facts have never been an impediment to the megalomaniac in chief before and won’t be this time either.
Energy Is Power
Remember those geo-political consequences alluded to earlier? Plentiful supplies of natural gas are helping several European countries thumb their noses at Russia, which used to be their primary source of gas for heating in the winter. “The U.S. supply of oil and natural gas has contributed to political upheaval in the Middle East, creating new competition for oil exports, and in Russia, a leading supplier of natural gas to Europe,” says Time. Melting in the Arctic may lead to warfare between several nations as they rush to exploit the oil and gas reserves beneath the sea ice and ice cap.
The tragedy of all this is that the US is poised to plunge headlong into being the principal source of new carbon dioxide emissions in coming years. What a legacy for a country that claims it wants to become great again but will be the primary cause of tipping the global environment over into irreversible calamity. Republicans will be able to take pleasure in the fact that they placed profits and political power ahead of the lives of their children and grandchildren. That’s a political legacy anyone who has no acquaintance with the concept of ethics can really be proud of.