Monday, January 2, 2012

Unlimited Domestic Energy...Right Now

January 2, 2012
By Gary Jason

A rush of recent reports indicates that the explosion of non-conventional fossil fuel production continues to transform the world.  (Non-conventional fossil fuel production is the production of oil and natural gas by hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling.)  In fact, 2011 will mark a major turning point in energy production worldwide -- one with profound geopolitical consequences.

The first report is that Anadarko Petroleum has just raised its estimate for its Colorado Wattenberg field holdings.  Anadarko estimates that the field will yield more than one billion barrels of oil and national gas.  This would place it right up there with the now-legendary Bakken shale field (in North Dakota) and the Eagle Ford formation (in Texas).

Anadarko is now looking at expanding its operations into Wyoming.

The second story is that North Dakota hit a record high oil production in October of 488,000 barrels per day (bpd).  This was up 100,000 bpd (or 25%) from June's production.  Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, projects that the state's total oil production will exceed 500,000 bpd next year and 900,000 bpd the year after that.  The state will soon surpass California (539,000 bpd) and Alaska (550,000 bpd), rivaling top-producing Texas (1.2 million bpd).

Another story reinforces these bracing estimates.  The National Petroleum Council estimates that by 2035 -- if the regulators will just stop endlessly excreting new hurdles -- the U.S. will hit 3 million bpd of shale oil alone.  There are about 14 to 16 new American shale oil fields just starting to be exploited.

This has led the federal Energy Information Administration to raise its estimates for total American liquid fuel output by nearly 40% -- for next year alone!

The prior report indicates that total (i.e., conventional and non-conventional) American crude oil production hit 5.8 million bpd in September of this year -- an increase of 300,000 bpd (or about 5.5%) from the year earlier.  American crude oil production could hit 7 to 7.5 million bpd by 2013, and hit 8-10 million bpd by 2015.  Add in natural gas liquids, and we may well hit 11-14 million bpd.  That would place our crude oil production up there with Saudi Arabia and Russia and, when you add in our natural gas liquids and ethanol, would place us tops in the world by far in liquid fuel production.

In fact, it now appears that in 2011, America will become a net petroleum product exporter for the first time in 62 years.

Not only is America now a net petroleum product exporter, but as expert Dave Ernsberger (global director at energy consulting firm Platts) put it, "[i]t looks like a trend that could stay in place for the rest of the decade.  The conventional wisdom is that [the] U.S. is this giant black hole sucking in energy from around the world. This changes the dynamic."

The immense non-conventional oil resources literally below our feet have made Big Oil fundamentally reassess its geo-economic worldview.

Where in the past, the major private oil companies went to faraway (and often dangerous) regions like the North African desert, the Caspian Sea, and the Niger Delta, oil companies are now focusing on developed nations -- for a variety of reasons.

First, producing the energy supplies where they are most needed -- namely, in the industrialized economies that utilize those supplies to produce most of what the world consumes -- keeps transportation costs down.

Second, keeping vast sums of money from flowing to authoritarian or hostile regimes lessens the risk that they will attack the industrialized democracies.  This in turn lessens the chance of major recessions, during which the demand for oil plummets.

Third, the more predictable legal and political systems found in industrialized economies make rational planning far easier for the oil companies.  In particular, they don't have to face having their assets "nationalized" (i.e., stolen).  Big Oil obviously has concluded that it is better to earn lower but more reliable profits in industrialized democracies than to seek out higher but easier-to-seize profits in corrupt authoritarian regimes.

Fourth, big private oil companies are not permitted to compete with the state-run or crony capitalist companies that take their place after their assets get stolen.  This has happened over and over again, from Mexico to Saudi Arabia to Russia to Venezuela.  The elites in these statist authoritarian regimes hog all the profits for themselves and freeze out the very private companies who developed those resources to begin with.

In short, the oil companies are returning, drill bit in hand, to the countries that still allow private enterprise in energy production.

So Big Oil is shifting to the OECD countries.  The energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie estimates that North America, Europe, and Australia together hold the promise of delivering $1.7 trillion (or more than half the total) of the future value of Big Oil.

For instance, over the last seven years, Shell has gone from having about 50% of its operations in OPEC countries to 70%, mostly in Australia, Canada, and the U.S.  And Exxon-Mobil is bulking up on North American resources.  It acquired XTO Energy last year, a major shale-gas company, and its non-conventional production will likely double in the next ten years.

This lesson -- that non-conventional sources of fossil fuels can liberate your country from suppliers that are hostile to it -- is not lost on other countries.

For example, the Chinese, who have perfected the art of flattery by imitation, are turning to non-conventional fuels with a passion.

PetroChina has discovered shale gas in China's Sichuan province.  It has drilled over 20 wells, all successful.  China doesn't at present have commercial shale gas production, but this discovery tells them it should.

And the potential for Chinese non-conventional gas production is simply staggering.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) currently estimates that the Chinese have over 1,275 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale natural gas, the largest known reserves of any country on Earth.  The Chinese are thus sitting on three centuries' supply of the stuff (at current usage)!

Mr. Fu Chengyo, chairman of the massive Chinese fossil fuel conglomerate Sinopec, projects that China's natural gas production will eventually surpass even our own.

Globally, the potential for vast shale gas production (not counting shale oil, tar sands oil, and deep sea conventional oil production), is beyond staggering -- it is stupefying.  The current federal EIA's yearly estimate puts the total recoverable non-conventional natural gas in 32 countries -- mainly developed ones -- at no less than 5,760 trillion cubic feet.  Add in America's estimated 862 trillion cubic feet, and you're looking at 6,622 trillion cubic feet.  That's beyond staggering, beyond stupefying -- it's...what?  Surreal?

That huge amount of non-conventional natural gas is, please note, in addition to the proven conventional reserves of 6,609 trillion cubic feet.  Now add in not just proven (easily recoverable) conventional natural gas reserves, but all technically recoverable conventional gas (about 16,000 trillion cubic feet), and you have on the order of 22,600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas available to the world -- with just the currently known technology.

For decades, the environmentalist fanatics have repeated the Malthusian myth that we are running out of fossil fuels.  But the whole Thanatos-worshiping pagan enviro-religion is now facing its Copernican challenge.

Philosopher Gary Jason is a senior editor for Liberty, and author of the new book Dangerous Thoughts (available from and Amazon).

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