After the Boom

It might not be evident from the prices at local gas sta- tions, but the United States is in the midst of an oil boom of historic proportions. Driven by the explosive growth in shale oil wildcatting in Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Ohio, U.S. oil producers are increasing output at the highest rate ever. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that domestic oil pro- duction averaged 6.4 million barrels a day in 2012 and is expected to surge by 23 percent to reach 7.9 million barrels a day in 2014.

That record level of output is expected to transform the United States into the largest global oil producer by 2017, surpassing even oil-soaked Saudi Arabia. After years of handwringing over the cost of imported oil and the strategic and economic vulnerability oil imports propel, the United States may, remarkably, become a net exporter of oil by 2030.

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That unexpected transformation will also yield higher tax revenues, more jobs and lower energy costs for other industries. It all sounds too good to be true. It, of course, is. Behind the boom lurk some considerable dangers.

Environmental impact. Much of the oil fueling the boom is extracted by hydraulic fracturing techniques, or “fracking,” a process more often associated with the boom, and now the glut, in natural gas. In terms of its long-term environmental and health impacts, fracking remains underscrutinized, but it has been associated with contamination of surface and well water, bizarre health effects on people and livestock, even methane-flaming water faucets and earthquakes. The burning of fossil fuels is also the primary driver of climate change and over time has a significant effect on human and ecological health. These environmental concerns must be evaluated without discrimination in balance with the possible economic and strategic rewards of greater oil independence.

Intergenerational fairness. In confronting climate change and issues related to sustainable economic growth in the future, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of the need for both international and intergenerational solidarity. Just as the burdens of confronting climate change cannot morally be shifted to the world’s poorest and least powerful, neither can this generation’s responsibility to the next be discounted. The early 21st-century gas and oil boom in the United States continues a pattern of intense extraction and consumption of energy reserves that can never be replaced. It makes an irrevocable claim on a God-given resource now denied to the future. When U.S. politicians emphasize the national debt, many speak of an unjust burden on their children and grandchildren because of the contemporary generation’s lack of restraint. The same moral call to re-straint pertains to fossil-fuel reserves.

Planning for the future. While the oil boom may provide a welcome respite from the nation’s energy gloom, it is bound to be short-lived. Because of human ingenuity, resource extraction opportunities once considered impossible have become commonplace. But it remains certain that one day fossil fuel resources will be exhausted. Alternative, sustainable energy infrastructure must be in place when that day arrives. What will come eventually almost always arrives suddenly.

ExxonMobil analysts predict that oil will remain the primary global fuel through 2040, when natural gas will overtake coal for the number two spot. They predict that the use of nuclear power and renewable energy will grow, but renewable energy will still represent less than 10 percent of the total energy supply 30 years from today. That is an unacceptable outcome. The Obama administration has made confronting climate change a primary goal of the president’s second term. It should not allow this unanticipated oil abundance to distract from that commitment. Fossil fuels burned for energy contribute to climate change regardless of their domestic or imported origins.

The nations of Europe do not have the luxury of squeezing every last drop of oil and natural gas out of novel deposits like tar sands or shale. But the resource deficit in western Europe is not without a positive side. On the continent the inevitable alternative energy infrastructure is already emerging, while in the United States the matter is debated in Congress.

America’s miraculous boom in fossil fuel should prove a blessing, creating new jobs and economic growth across a number of industrial sectors that benefit from lower energy costs, offering a chance to reduce defense spending and move those savings into investments in human capital and domestic infrastructure. More important, it can provide a critical breathing space while the nation uses the revenue windfall from this perhaps last domestic oil boom to invest in the transition to renewable energy production. Of course, this boom could just as easily prove just another opportunity for short-term profit for a few, a transfer of risk to the many and oil-intoxicated indolence on climate change.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Mike Evans
5 years 5 months ago
Nevertheless, the new ease of extracting oil from old wells has a curious opportunity for producers to continue to "game" the system and maintain the excessive and speculative rise of oil prices. Remember it was only a short 8 or 9 years ago that oil prices were in the dumpster at about $25 a barrel. Most of the current price is speculative trading of oil contracts that has nothing to do with worldwide demand or actual use. Our U.S. glut is being well managed by super rich oil companies, and not to anyone's benefit.
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 5 months ago
Fossil fuels are now more curse than blessing. C + O2 = CO2. And it ain't your grandma's sweet crude. It means more pollution per kilojoule.
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 5 months ago
One more thing. The only reason we're going to pass Saudi Arabia is because we will meet them on the way down, not surpassing them on the way up.
Craig McKee
5 years 5 months ago
Homework assignment for Members of Congress and the United Nations- Write 500 times: THE SUN PROVIDES MORE ENERGY IN ONE HOUR THAN THE ENTIRE PLANET CONSUMES IN ONE YEAR! THE SUN PROVIDES MORE ENERGY IN ONE HOUR THAN THE ENTIRE PLANET CONSUMES IN ONE YEAR! Need one say more? If so, read this: http://earth911.com/news/2007/10/15/pros-and-cons-of-solar-power/
John Walton
5 years 5 months ago
"The nations of Europe do not have the luxury of squeezing every last drop of oil and natural gas out of novel deposits like tar sands or shale." Perhaps America should hire a fact-checker. There are vast deposits shale oil and natural gas all over Europe, particularly those areas which had mined coal like Germany, Poland and north-eastern France. The green parties, not any natural deficit, impede development of these resources. If the price of oil were $50/bbl there would be no development of tar sands and shale oil, gas liquids etc. The market, which the Catholic hierarchy instinctively abhors, is providing Americans and Canadians with abundant natural energy and jobs.
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 5 months ago
What can you do? Some stupid people prefer clean drinking water for all over profits and a few jobs for some. What's a little trimethlylbenzene and toluene? Visit Koenigsee and you'll see what the Germans consider true wealth.
Robert Koch
5 years 5 months ago
Perhaps the Jesuits that write America The Natural Catholic Review, should stick with religion and leave science to the people that know what they are talking about. Burning tap water has long ago been shown that it had nothing to do with fracking. There are also other statements in this article that are less than correct.
Betty Clayton
5 years 2 months ago
It is best to use solar panel to give power for your homes and this is very to the nature and for your family in your home. The very thing this is so amazing because this is very safe to use and will not harm the ozone layer. There is no risk for the user. ----------------------------------------------------------- http://www.gamescrack.org/subway-surfers-crack/

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