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U.S. to Become World’s Top Oil and Gas Producer by 2017

RP Siegel | Thursday December 27th, 2012 | 9 Comments

oilplatformAt one point not long ago, the three issues of climate change, energy independence, and peak oil were being effectively used in conjunction to motivate discussion of the need for a domestic green energy industry. And for a while, that is exactly what happened. We have, after all, seen dramatic growth in wind, solar and geothermal energy sources.

But something else happened at the same time, quietly, in the background, when nobody was looking.

America’s fossil fuel industry, particularly oil and gas, compelled by two of these three imperatives, has exploded. We are experiencing an American oil and gas renaissance.

There are three primary reasons why this has occurred.

First, the rising price of oil has made it profitable to go after reserves that had been historically too expensive to access, specifically deep ocean oil, shale deposits and tar sands. Secondly, new technologies, like deep offshore platforms and fracking, have made the exploitation of these deposits cost effective. Finally, relaxation of environmental protections, going back to the Bush administration and continuing under Obama, have allowed the industry to go after these sources without fear of regulatory consequences.

It’s almost like the question of energy independence served as a kind of Trojan Horse for the oil companies to enter the conversation, even with wary environmentalists guarding the door. After all, we actually disliked those despotic regimes in the Middle East even more than we disliked the oil companies.

So now, according to National Geographic, the U.S. is projected to overtake Russia as the largest producer of natural gas in three years, and Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer in five. It would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago, to imagine that places like Pennsylvania and North Dakota would be considered energy capitals, drawing students out of college with high-paying jobs in the oilfields.

As a result of this incredible energy boom, the U.S., which currently imports 20 per cent of its energy, will become, according to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook,  largely energy independent by the year 2035. And that’s a good thing, right? It is now not only possible but likely that we can deep-sea drill, tar melt and frack ourselves to energy independence in just a few short years.

If only these things weren’t such gosh-darned environmental disasters, it might indeed be a good thing. I guess nobody really remembers the BP oil spill anymore. That was so two thousand ten. Besides, it was a big spill, but we’re all still alive. Or the flaming water coming out of kitchen sinks located in the vicinity of gas fracking wells. Those people are getting paid anyway, or, at least some of them are. Or the toxic discharges coming from the tar sands and threatening freshwater supplies, much as the fracking wells do. These incidents of collateral damage, serious as they are, could potentially be ameliorated, if the developers were willing to take the time and make the investments to ensure that these resources were obtained responsibly.

But even if we could do all those things safely with no spills, leaks or releases; that still doesn’t change the fact that we have a pretty serious problem with carbon dioxide. Or have we, in our zeal for energy independence,  forgotten about that, too? Those who study climate change keep learning more and more about it, and the more they learn, the worse it gets.

This all reminds me of a slick Las Vegas magician, who keeps talking and telling stories to distract you from what he is doing with his hands. Next thing you know, he has pulled a rabbit out of a hat. We’ve all been fooled again and we seem to love it. And what story is this magician telling us while slipping this particular rabbit into the hat? He is telling us that this new fossil energy boom will create prosperity and jobs. Regular folks can get paid to dismantle the planet’s temperature regulation system, which will allow them to buy large screen TV’s on which to watch the whole thing come undone. Meanwhile, the owners of these companies will probably get rich enough to fly to another planet.

Once upon a time, America was the moral leader of the free world. We stood up for what was right and acted in accordance with our highest principles. But now that we have decided to let the invisible hand of the market run things, we can no longer make that claim. We no longer do what is right. We only do what is profitable.

So now, with the climate crisis looming over us all, we have stepped up, not to lead the way out of trouble as we might have done a few decades back, but instead to become the world’s greatest producer of the root cause of the problem.

Is anyone else uncomfortable with this?

[Image credit: mrs. McD: Flickr creative commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


▼▼▼      9 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://twitter.com/mattcourtland Matthew Courtland

    I am very uncomfortable with the US becoming a top oil and gas producer and appreciate your reporting on the subject. I am hearing and reading more stories on the effects of climate change and it appears many people now believe it is inevitable. The conversation is slowly switching from how we can avoid it to how we can manage the changes it will foist upon us. Today I listened to part of a talk about how to protect coffee and coca crops once the world heats up. I find it very disturbing that attention in the US appears to be shifting away from how to slow down climate change and toward how we can reinvent new systems that will allow us to continue consuming at an unsustainable rate.

    • http://MrEnergyCzar.com/ MrEnergyCzar

      I noticed that too. The reality is the growth addicted economic model we will live and die with depends on many dirty energy inputs to even have a chance to keep growing and avoid collapse. Responding costs are seen as much less than collapsing the growth based system we have in place by moving off the dirty cheap fuels. I’m with you though, switch to steady state economy and get a global cap and trade etc….

      MrEnergyCzar

  • http://MrEnergyCzar.com/ MrEnergyCzar

    People will believe anything these days. Future oil that we produce will be energy intensive and expensive, not at a price we can ever grow our economy and pay our future debts with…

    MrEnergyCzar

    • stopthesocialism

      No, that’s just what doomers like you hope will happen. You should try to get some psychiatric help.

      • http://MrEnergyCzar.com/ MrEnergyCzar

        But I am a Psychiatrist….

  • jdtrouble

    Climate change is as deceptive a term as global warming. Climate is never not changing. As a planet, we go through regular heat waves and cooling phases. We may be nearing the end of a hot spell, as dictated by solar activity.

    The Jurassic period had a huge amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Quite a bit more than we do even today. In fact that’s where the carbon in so-called fossil fuels come from: prehistoric vegetation and such. Yet, the dinosaurs were not killed by global warming. They were killed by a comet or asteroid, in theory.

    I for one am excited in technological progress in producing “dirty” energy. I don’t want the Western world dependant on a culture that wants to blow us up. However, I am relatively unexcited about the crony capitalism of “green” “energy.” Any news about Solyndra lately? Don’t get me wrong, I like green energy: I’d drive a Tesla if I were a billionare. But if we keep squandering the resources we inherited, we will fail to find the sustainable energy which we need.

    • corbin

      I agree with your thoughts on crony capitalism, but remember, it’s crony capitalism that keeps the fossil fuels companies alive. In fact most of our military budget is essentially an oil subsidy.

      I have no problem getting rid of subsidies for green energy if you do the same for fossil fuels!

  • concernedcitizen

    jdtrouble, 98% of all climate scientist agree that climate change is happening and it is being effected by Human behavior. 98% of scientist don’t agree on anything! Are you a climatlogist? becuase I bet whatever you do, you would find it very annoying if a laymen told you that they know better than you at your expertise. Spend some time on the Union of Concerned Scientist website and read the research. Climate change is not going to be some small inconvenience if we don’t do something our planets hospitality is going to be dramatically impacted.

  • stopthesocialism

    “Peak Oil” is a pseudo religion. Don’t expect the “believers” to ever change their belief that peak oil doom is just a few years away. It will always be just a few years away in their heads.