Since 1973 much of world politics has been dominated by oil.
America’s dependence on oil imports is reducing, driven by the reduction in consumption, and increased production at home. American oil consumption fell from 2005 to 2010 as a result of spiking prices and recession, and it is projected to do little more than return, very slowly, to the pre-recession peak over the next two decades.
Meanwhile, America’s shale oil boom is turning the country into one of the world’s dominant energy producers (with Canada rapidly assuming a position just behind). An enormous share of the world’s oil may soon be produced in North America, in other words, potentially altering the economics and politics of oil in dramatic ways.
Fracking, a method of extracting gas from shale is a hotly debated topic. The technique, also called Induced hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping a mix of water, sand, and chemicals down the perforated still pipe and into the reservoir at ultra-high pressure to create small fractures in shale/tight formations which free up the oil and gas to flow up the well.
Hydraulic fracturing has raised environmental concerns and is challenging the adequacy of existing regulatory regimes. These concerns have included ground water contamination, risks to air quality, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, mishandling of waste, and the health effects of all these.
In Britain the resistance is founded on the belief that minor earthquakes had been caused by fracking that was being performed close by.
New York, Maryland and New Jersey have imposed temporary bans on fracking and Vermont may follow, but everywhere else in America the gas flows unimpeded.
Europe, with its high energy costs and its dependence on Russia for most of its gas, would benefit greatly from exploiting the shale bound reserves. Belief that the ecological risks have not been solved prevents that from happening.
Economic realities might soon force everyone to sort fact from fiction.