POSTED ON JUNE 15, 2011:
Geology and Politics
Sorry, Saudis, the U.S. is the global energy superpower
Saudi Arabia has long been the dominant producer of petroleum on the planet. Nature endowed the Arabian Peninsula with gigantic deposits of this vital source of energy. Many of us have lamented the quirk of nature that placed much-needed oil in the most geopolitically unstable region in the world.
Although Saudi Arabia is the king of oil producers at present, there is another country that has far more extensive deposits of fossil fuels. Because fossil fuels are the most economical and reliable energy sources known to man, the country that has the largest share of them is fortunate indeed. What is this richly endowed country? It is none other than the United States of America.
Perhaps you have heard the United States described as "the Saudi Arabia of coal." Actually, that may be an understatement, for while the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the Saudis have 20 percent of the world's known petroleum reserves, the United States has an even larger share -- 27 percent -- of the world's known deposits of coal. As engineers continue to develop more and more "clean coal" technologies, this abundant resource will continue to serve our energy needs for as long as we need it.
In addition to our immense coal deposits, the United States contains gigantic natural gas deposits. Currently, the United States ranks fourth in natural gas production, but domestic reserves are soaring as horizontal drilling and "fracking" tap the mind-boggling dimensions of the natural gas fields located here in Pennsylvania (the Marcellus formation), Louisiana (the Haynesville formations), and elsewhere across the lower 48. If fracking can be done without contaminating precious water supplies, it is possible that the United States may also become "the Saudi Arabia of natural gas."
There is even more good news: Besides being the Saudi Arabia of coal and potentially natural gas, we may become the next "Saudi Arabia" of oil. This won't be the light, sweet crude that the Saudis pump at little cost and with relative ease, but it's oil nonetheless. The Green River shale rock formation under just three of our states -- Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah -- is estimated to hold 1.8 trillion barrels of oil, about seven times as large as the Saudis' crude oil reserves.
Beyond the vast petroleum deposits in the Green River formation, we have the Bakken field in North Dakota and Montana, where ever-more reserves are being found, the untapped deposits in Alaska, the continental shelf, and other existing fields in the lower 48 states. Add to those immense reserves yet-to-be-discovered petroleum deposits and technological improvements, such as those that improved recovery rates from 20 percent to 35 percent of oil deposits in recent years (yes, that means that most of the oil is still there), and you can see that the prospects for domestic oil production are mind-boggling.
Ours is a case of geological good news and political bad news. We have under our feet the world's greatest treasure trove of energy supplies. The bad news is, we have a president and a party that have made it their full-time policy to obstruct, thwart, and forbid extraction of those immense resources, while encouraging other countries to drill, drill, drill.
We have all that we need, friends. We just need the freedom to go get it.
(-Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.)
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