Forget America’s fiscal cliff, Europe’s currency troubles or the emerging-markets slowdown. The most important story in the global economy today may well be some good news that isn’t yet making as many headlines — the coming surge in oil production around the world.
Um, the what?
Thanks in part to technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking, we are entering a new age of abundant oil. As the energy expert Leonardo Maugeri contends in a recent report published by the Belfer Center at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, “contrary to what most people believe, oil supply capacity is growing worldwide at such an unprecedented level that it might outpace consumption.”
What a nice way to celebrate the day after the hottest July in U.S. history!
The quotes are from a piece by Chrystia Freeland on the New York Times website, outlining how — contrary to old projections that we’d run out — we might soon see an oil glut.
Here’s an interview with Maugeri, author of the report she cites:
The report, “Oil: The next revolution,” identifies the following “bottom lines”:
- Oil Production Growth Is Global. Global oil output capacity is likely to grow from 93 million barrels per day today to 110 million barrels per day by 2020 — the largest increase in a single decade since the 1980s. The surge in oil production capacity will occur almost everywhere, with the largest increases in Iraq, the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Venezuela.
- United States Will Experience Unprecedented Output. Technological advances will increase the production of “unconventional” oil in the United States, which is in the midst of a shale boom. The Bakken/Three Forks formation in North Dakota alone has as much untapped shale/tight oil as a Persian Gulf country.
- Oil Prices May Collapse. If oil prices remain at or above $70 per barrel, investments will sustain the 20 percent increase in oil production capacity by 2020. However, world demand is sluggish due to the lagging economy and focus on energy efficiency. If these trends continue, we could see a significant dip — or even a temporary collapse — of oil prices.
The main takeaway: We’re getting good at tapping oil sources that were once considered inaccessible — tar sands, oil from hydraulic fracturing. It’s the energy equivalent of a stoner scraping the bowl, digging out every remnant he can find.
Here’s Maugeri’s last “bottom line”:
Current climate policy conversations will certainly be influenced by the unexpected surge in oil production capacity. Policymakers will have to address the potential environmental and climate impacts of a substantial increase in oil supply. Industry should also be prepared to make appropriately large investments in developing technologies that will reduce the environmental footprint of oil production and use.
Freeland mentions climate change toward the end of her piece as well, though she doesn’t address the impacts, only the politics. She writes that, for environmentalists, “[t]he temptation will be to oppose new oil production projects indiscriminately. That instinct could be politically dangerous.” Why? Because oil creates jobs. End of debate.
So that’s it, then. Lots more oil coming our way, as oil companies scavenge and scrape and dig and convert it all into cash. If we stand in the way, it’s because we hate America and want “good blue-collar jobs” to be destroyed. And as we’re clapping and hooting about how cheap gasoline is all of a sudden, we should remember to pay some unspecified heed to the climate impact of the oil we’re chugging. Like, recycle your Pennzoil bottles. That sort of thing.
If you need me, I’ll be on Mars, riding Curiosity around and taking pictures.
Update: TheOilDrum.com has a rebuttal to Maugeri’s argument, which it suggests is “inconsistent with the available evidence.” Their argument, in short: Maugeri is overly optimistic in his estimates of how rapidly the rate of extraction will decline from existing sources.