Thanks, fracking

Perspectives blog
Ken Cohen - Jan. 23, 2015

Everyone from President Obama at the State of the Union on down is celebrating the lowered energy prices brought about in large part by America’s abundant new supplies of oil and natural gas.

The average price of a gallon of gasoline has fallen by about a third compared to this time last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In many parts of the country motorists are seeing gasoline priced well below $2 per gallon.

Gas_Prices_Graphic_01-2015For consumers, these savings – “more than $2 billion less a week on gas,” according to the Washington Post – are expected to provide a substantial stimulus to the U.S. economy.

That’s good news, but what is often lost in the celebration is a recognition of just what is behind this extraordinary development.

In a word? Fracking.

The broader economic benefits flowing from increased U.S. oil and natural gas supplies reflect the fundamental importance of energy.  And thanks to the advanced integration of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing we are in a new era.

It is especially important to keep these gamechangers in mind as we listen to the debates about energy and environmental policy taking place in Washington and various state capitals.

The shale revolution that has helped boost U.S. crude production by close to 4 million barrels per day since 2008 could not have happened without sustained investment and innovation.

This energy abundance has had the added impact of offsetting the production lost due to geopolitical upheaval or economic mismanagement.

As output from countries such as Iran, Libya, and Venezuela has fallen off in recent years, production in the United States has soared, providing flexibility, diversity, and, ultimately, stability for the global market.

A headline in the National Journal said it well: “You’re Welcome, World: U.S. Fracking Surge Picks Up Slack for Global Disruptions.”

Given the downward pressure on prices coming from our domestic oil supplies, one can only speculate on what the price of gasoline would have been in, say, 2013, if not for the bounty coming from North Dakota and Texas.  Instead, a gallon of gasoline now costs less than a gallon of sparkling water in many places.

Similarly, the tremendous increase in natural gas from the Marcellus Shale and other shale regions has put downward pressure on electricity prices and revitalized American manufacturing, while contributing to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions unrivaled anywhere else in the world.

One more point about fracking: These dramatic production increases have occurred largely in spite of anything the federal government has done. The shale revolution took Washington by surprise, taking place for the most part on private, not federal, lands.

And a good thing too.

Washington’s policy with regard to energy production on federal lands often amounts to erecting speed bumps, imposing costly detours, and even putting up stop signs, as I have detailed in this space before.

Between 2009 and 2013 – in the middle of one of the most extraordinary periods of energy production in our history – oil and natural gas production from federal lands actually declined. During this same period, executive agencies have slow walked approvals one by one, and even when industry has complied with multiple iterations of the legal and regulatory process, projects have still been lost to political gamesmanship.

Next time you drive by your local service station and marvel at the price listed on the sign, remember that the number would likely be a whole lot different if not for fracking by America’s entrepreneurs, businesses, and energy workers.

Tags:   hydraulic fracturing
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