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I just heard this morning on the ABC business news program that there’s been this massive turnaround in the availability of oil – yeah the fossil fuel stuff – in the USA. They were saying that recent oil production has been matching that of Saudi Arabia, and that this transformation has been very rapid, and unexpected, except to insiders. Moreover, the amount of reserves, and the capacity to access them, have increased dramatically.

So I’d like to know how this has happened, and what this means for those going on about ‘peak oil’ over the past few years, as well as for renewables, both in the USA and elsewhere.

A USA Today article from last October suggested that the way things have been going in recent years, the USA could surpass Saudi Arabia, which has been the world’s biggest oil producer for some time, by 2020. Experts expect that US production will average 11.4 million barrels a day in 2013, a US record. Production has increased substantially each year for the past five years, with 2012 registering the biggest gain in one year since 1951. It’s predicted to reach 13 to 15 million barrels by 2020. However, US consumption levels remain well above production, so it will still be a net importer, though the percentage is reducing.

So where’s all this oil coming from? Wasn’t it accepted as fact a few years ago that US oil reserves were running dry and that this would mean doing desperate deals that would likely increase global instability?

There are a number of factors that are easing some of the import problems for the US, including more fuel-efficient vehicles, but clearly the main factor is increased domestic production thanks to such advanced methods as horizontal drilling and fracking – the controversial process of cracking underground rocks to release their oil and gas content, using pumped water, sand and chemicals, at high pressure. New shale formations are being found, and production from some of these are expected to treble by 2020. Every site is being re-evaluated, and expectations are soaring. The peak oil claims of a few years ago, at least in relation to the USA (but surely these successful techniques will be applied worldwide) have completely collapsed, and the US is expecting, and indeed already experiencing, a huge economic boost via oil and gas production and subsidiary industries.

Presumably this will affect the renewable energy sector, as well as, in a roundabout way, the debate over anthropogenic global warming. A recent article by one Steve Forbes (editor of Forbes magazine), also in USA Today, takes the standard business line that the government should be doing everything to encourage and support business in exploiting the newly-extractable fossil fuels, rather than imposing environmental regulations. Although the article is called ‘Focus on economy, not climate’, Forbes, perhaps astutely, doesn’t mention climate, or science for that matter, once throughout the whole body of the article. He focuses entirely on economics, jobs and production. Thus he evades any accusation of climate change denial, and can only be described as a climate change avoider. He even follows the old conservative line, much beloved by conservative pollies such as Nick Minchin here, that ‘48% of Americans place higher priority on economic recovery and job growth over mandating additional environmental protections’. This is twice ridiculous: first, because it suggests that an important issue such as global warming should be decided upon through popular vote rather than through the recommendations of those with the knowledge – that’s to say, the scientists who study the data; and second, because the statistic he quotes shows that 52% of Americans don’t place higher priority on economics than on environmental protection. And this is the editor of a supposedly world-class business magazine? Quel embarrassment.

Many Americans, it seems to me, are living with a kind of duel reality – denying global warming while at the same doing their utmost to minimise it. They manage to reduce their carbon footprint while arguing to themselves that they’re just aiming at business efficiency, nothing more. It’s fascinating to watch, if nothing else. And meanwhile, the weather causes havoc…

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Written by stewart henderson

July 24, 2013 at 10:04 pm

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