Ecocentric

The U.S. Is an Energy Superpower

New technologies have enabled the U.S. to become the world's top producer of oil and natural gas by energy content.

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A new item by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) confirms what we’ve been reporting for a while now: the U.S. is an energy superpower. The EIA predicts that in 2013, the U.S. will be the world’s top producer of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia, as the graph below shows:

(MORE: An Energy Boom That Could Last)

Not every hydrocarbon is equal—the U.S. produces about the same amount of natural gas as it does petroleum, at least in terms of the BTUs of energy those fuels can produce. Saudi Arabia, by contrast, produces nearly all petroleum—and with oil running north of $100 a barrel and tradable around the world, Saudi Arabia’s oil is more valuable than America’s gas, which can’t easily be exported.

But there’s no denying how astounding—and how real—America’s energy revolution has been, as the EIA indicates:

Since 2008, U.S. petroleum production has increased 7 quadrillion Btu, with dramatic growth in Texas and North Dakota. Natural gas production has increased by 3 quadrillion Btu over the same period, with much of this growth coming from the eastern United States. Russia and Saudi Arabia each increased their combined hydrocarbon output by about 1 quadrillion Btu over the past five years.

The main drivers behind that increase—aside from high energy prices, which always encourage more drilling—are better hydrofracking and directional drilling technologies, which have allowed energy companies to exploit oil and natural gas resources in shale rock that were long considered uneconomical. Fracking remains controversial—a new study from researchers at Duke University found elevated levels of radium in a stream in Pennsylvania where treated fracking wastewater had been discharged. (Industry advocates noted that the shale gas industry hadn’t taken wastewater to the treatment plant in question since May 2011.)

But while environmentalists have managed to stop shale gas fracking in New York, and may succeed in limiting it in California, there’s little evidence that they’ll be able to halt the energy revolution altogether. During his speech on climate change in June, Obama took time out to praise “cleaner-burning natural gas” for reducing U.S. carbon emissions, and in general his Administration hasn’t done much to slow the pace of shale gas and oil development, at least on private land. Which isn’t to say there won’t eventually be a conflict between the fracking revolution and climate policy, as I wrote in TIME last week. Check out the piece here.

(MORE: The Challenges of America’s Energy Revolution)

6 comments
srpottle
srpottle

Right  you are zsandon. George Mitchell, who passed away a few months ago should get a major national award for America. He has profoundly changed the world for the better. He must be acknowledge as part of a group that would include Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. I am not an ideologue, but Mitchell is akin to some of the heroes in Atlas Shrugged. 

politicsofoilandgas
politicsofoilandgas

It's important to look at consumption as well as production. The US is the largest consumer of both oil and gas. It will produce more crude and NGLs combined than Russia and Saudi Arabia before long, but it will remain a net oil importer despite this because it consumes more than 18 million b/d (production will be a bit over 10 million b/d this year). Saudi Arabia and Russia are the largest oil exporters, and as their domestic consumption is much lower compared to what they produce this status is not likely to change (although Saudi Arabia does have rising domestic consumption and this will eat into exports). With gas it is slightly different, the US will become a net gas exporter in the form of LNG, but before the shale gas boom it was almost completely self-sufficient in its gas supply, unlike with oil. At the moment Russia is the largest exporter of gas by far.

zsandon
zsandon

It didn't just happen out of thin air. 

No one seems to be thinking of actually thanking the inventors and risk-takers who, in their search for profit have provided the rest of us with the energy we want and need.  They have done more for the country (and the world) than the last ten generations of diplomats COMBINED. How about a Nobel peace prize for people who really earned it? As for the environmental risks, having all Greenpeace members get vasectomies would serve to benefit the environment far more than their scaling oil platforms. As for me I refuse to die frozen as an expression of my concern for generations to come. 

Mlebauer
Mlebauer

' Obama took time out to praise “cleaner-burning natural gas” '

That means nothing. Watch what he does, not what he says.