By Arthur I. Cyr
“Fracking” rhymes with “hacking” and is not a friendly term. Other unpleasant words that begin with “f” include “fracture,” “frenzied,” “frustrate” and more. The f-word at issue here, obviously not invented by a public-relations firm, refers to a technical and also extremely important method of mining natural gas and oil.
The term is shorthand for the process of hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracturing, by which fluid is used to drive gas and petroleum to a well bore, where continuous accessibility for extraction is relatively easy.
Energy policies remain on the political front burner. After some delay, President Barack Obama has decided to veto the proposed Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. An unusual alliance of petroleum companies and labor unions was strongly for the project, while a coalition of environmentalists, naturalists and supporters of alternative fuels was opposed.
Obama’s decision reflects in part the power of these latter groups in the contemporary Democratic Party.
The fracking process was first employed commercially in 1947 at a well in the Hugoton gas field in Kansas, but profitable applications proved extremely limited. World War II had concluded only two years earlier, and both sides in that conflict devoted efforts to increase petroleum production and create artificial fuels. Nazi Germany had noteworthy success regarding the latter.
Despite this background of intense innovation, fracking for years was simply not a moneymaker in the commercial marketplace, underscoring the technical challenges involved.
Recently, however, dramatic advances have made the approach profitable. More efficient, effective liquid processes are facilitating feasible fracking in substantial sections of the United States, including shale deposits in the eastern sections of the nation.
During the first nine months of 2011, the United States became a net exporter of petroleum-based products, reversing the trend of more than a half-century of marked growing dependence on foreign oil. Diesel fuels have become particularly important in the U.S. export mix. Closely related to this, since 2008 the U.S. has annually increased the amount of domestic crude-oil production, dramatically reversing another long-term trend.
This promises, over time, an extraordinary shift in the wider global strategic as well as energy positions of the U.S., with great and largely positive implications for foreign as well as domestic policies. Until the 1960s, the nation was a substantial net exporter of petroleum. Throughout the Great Depression, employment was still usually available in Texas and other oil-producing states.
In 1960, the new Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) attempted a strong-arm global oil embargo, but dramatically failed. OPEC did not control sufficient market share.
That had changed by 1973, when OPEC quickly tripled oil prices following a costly war between Israel and a coalition of Arab states. The oil cartel increased prices further in 1979. Since then, there have been no similar oil shocks. Energy-consuming nations and corporations have become a lot more fuel-efficient, despite the American taste for big vehicles with low gas mileage.
Now, the new energy independence of the United States, and by implication other industrial nations dependent on imported oil, should provide much greater freedom in dealing with perennial menaces from the Middle East.
In chemistry, a catalyst is a distinctive element that alters a reaction, and the same term applies to human affairs. Fracking increases U.S. economic independence and therefore political leverage — as long as we have prudent leadership.
The writer is a Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., and author of “After the Cold War.”
SEE ORIGINAL AND MORE: http://www.courierpress.com/news/2012/jan/23/fracking-gives-us-lease-on-energy-independence/
- Natural Gas Policy: Access, Not Over-Regulation and Subsidies (energyindependenceforstates.com)
- Fracking market to grow 19% to US$37Bn worldwide in 2012 (business.financialpost.com)
- Super fracking push for more oil, gas production (sfgate.com)