Energy Revolution

The U.S. Is an Energy Superpower

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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:

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.

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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.

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