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Americas to outstrip Middle East oil

September 6, 2011

Some potentially encouraging news from Foreign Policy has come to our attention from the delightfully bullish Carpe Diem.  As early as the 2020s, the sweet spot for energy production will shift out of the Middle East and back to the Americas.  If true, the shifting balance could do far more to reduce terrorist financing than the world than any bureaucratic financial regulation Washington, D.C., London, and FATF could devise.

Saudi Arabia has become wealthy because of its oil, and some of its leading citizens (such as its king, for example), have used Arabia’s petro-dollars to export Wahhabi doctrine throughout world.  Diplomatic efforts to reform Saudi Arabia have resulted in little more than false assurances of reform, misleading public statements, meager proof of improvement, and multiple examples of Saudi duplicity.

Enjoy:

U.S. Natural Gas Production, January 1990 - May 2011

For half a century, the global energy supply’s center of gravity has been the Middle East. This fact has had self-evidently enormous implications for the world we live in — and it’s about to change.
By the 2020s, the capital of energy will likely have shifted back to the Western Hemisphere, where it was prior to the ascendancy of Middle Eastern megasuppliers such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the 1960s. The reasons for this shift are partly technological and partly political. Geologists have long known that the Americas are home to plentiful hydrocarbons trapped in hard-to-reach offshore deposits, on-land shale rock, oil sands, and heavy oil formations. The U.S. endowment of unconventional oil is more than 2 trillion barrels, with another 2.4 trillion in Canada and 2 trillion-plus in South America — compared with conventional Middle Eastern and North African oil resources of 1.2 trillion. The problem was always how to unlock them economically.

But since the early 2000s, the energy industry has largely solved that problem. With the help of horizontal drilling and other innovations, shale gas production in the United States has skyrocketed from virtually nothing to 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply in less than a decade. By 2040, it could account for more than half of it. This tremendous change in volume has turned the conversation in the U.S. natural gas industry on its head; where Americans once fretted about meeting the country’s natural gas needs, they now worry about finding potential buyers for the country’s surplus (see chart above).

Meanwhile, onshore oil production in the United States, condemned to predictions of inexorable decline by analysts for two decades, is about to stage an unexpected comeback. Oil production from shale rock, a technically complex process of squeezing hydrocarbons from sedimentary deposits, is just beginning. But analysts are predicting production of as much as 1.5 million barrels a day in the next few years from resources beneath the Great Plains and Texas alone — the equivalent of 8 percent of current U.S. oil consumption. The development raises the question of what else the U.S. energy industry might accomplish if prices remain high and technology continues to advance. Rising recovery rates from old wells, for example, could also stem previous declines. On top of all this, analysts expect an additional 1 to 2 million barrels a day from the Gulf of Mexico now that drilling is resuming. Peak oil? Not anytime soon.

A hydrocarbon-driven reordering of geopolitics is already taking place. The petropower of Iran, Russia, and Venezuela has faltered on the back of plentiful American natural gas supply: A surplus of resources in the Americas is sending other foreign suppliers scrambling to line up buyers in Europe and Asia, making it more difficult for such exporters to assert themselves via heavy-handed energy “diplomacy.” The U.S. energy industry may also be able to provide the technical assistance necessary for Europe and China to tap unconventional resources of their own, scuttling their need to kowtow to Moscow or the Persian Gulf.

So watch this space: America may be back in the energy leadership saddle again.

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