As vivid as the gas flares in the Texas sky at night, is America’s new-found love affair with fracking. Environmentalists from both the left and among libertarians warn loudly of water contamination disasters and some home owners speak of being rattled by man-made earthquakes, but there is no giving it up the pace now. It’s a whole different world to 2008, when the US oil production snapshot was at a historical low and Sarah Palin was drawing liberal ire declaring that “Drill, Baby Drill!” was the answer to all of America’s problems. Suddenly she seems to have been right, and there is still the Canadian pipeline to be built.
America will see captured output touch 70 billion cubic feet a day in 2014, reaching over 100 billion cubic feet per day by 2040. In the past days, Bills have been tabled in both houses of Congress demanding that the federal government speed up the granting of licences to companies to export natural gas across the Atlantic precisely to reduce the dependency of Western Europe and Ukraine on Russian supplies. Among those wading in is House Speaker John Boehner. “The US Department of Energy’s excruciatingly slow approval process amounts to a de facto ban on American natural gas exports that Vladimir Putin has happily exploited to finance his geopolitical goals,” he said in a statement last week.
Building the infrastructure to export quantities needed to alter the energy politics of Europe will take several years. Nor will changes in America’s foreign policy stance because of its newfound oil fortunes become obvious overnight.
How long America’s shale boom will last is hard to forecast. In Texas, which on its own is set to increase production to 4 million barrels a day this year, the drilling peak still hasn’t been reached, says one expert. But, he suggests, “in the end it’s not the oil fields or the wells that will determine where all this goes. It’s the politicians around the world who set the price and make the markets.” Increasingly, the decisions that matter will rest with the US, as it adjusts to its new status as a glut producer.