Horizontal drilling and fracking have made oil shale and tar sands rich sources of oil and natural gas, so much so that the United States may prove to possess the largest store of fossil-fuel reserves in the world — in theory, with enough gas, oil and coal never to need any imported Middle Eastern energy again. “Peak oil” suddenly is an anachronism. Widespread American use of cheap natural gas will do more to clean the planet than thousands of Solyndras.
If the United States uses its resources, its present pathologies — massive budget and trade deficits, mounting debt, strategic vulnerability — will start to subside. These new breakthroughs in petroleum engineering are largely American phenomena, reminding us that there still is something exceptional in the American experience that periodically offers the world cutting-edge technologies and protocols — such as those pioneered by Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Starbucks and Wal-Mart.
In comparison, China is not only resource-poor but politically impoverished. For decades, we were told that Chinese totalitarianism, when mixed with laissez-faire capitalism, led to sparkling airports and bullet trains, while a litigious and indulgent America settled for a run-down Los Angeles airport and creaking Amtrak relics. But the truth is that LAX probably will look modern sooner than the Chinese will hold open elections amid a transparent society — given that free markets did not make China democratic, only more contradictory.
Even more surreal, tiny, oil-poor Israel, thanks to vast new offshore finds, has been reinvented as a potential energy giant in the Middle East. Petrodollars will change Israel as they did the Persian Gulf countries, but with one major difference. Unlike Dubai or Kuwait, Israel is democratic, economically diverse, socially stable and technologically sophisticated, suggesting that the sudden windfall will not warp Israel as it did traditional Arab autocracies, but will instead become a force multiplier of an already dynamic society. Will Europe still snub Israel when it has as much oil, gas and money as a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in the Persian Gulf?
Who would have thought that a few fracking innovators in Texas would change the world’s carbon footprint far more than did Nobel laureate Al Gore — while offering a way for the U.S. to be energy-independent? Or that Angela Merkel, not the European Union, would run Europe? Or that Arabs would be overthrowing Arabs as oil-rich Israel watched idly?
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Photo credit: Ecopolitologist