Politics & Policy

Oil-Rich America?

Vast new energy reserves will have staggering repercussions.

There is a revolution going on in America. But it is not part of the Tea Party or the loud Occupy Wall Street protests.

Instead, massive new reserves of gas, oil, and coal are being discovered almost everywhere in the United States, due to revolutionary methods of exploration and exploitation such as fracking and horizontal drilling. Current prices of over $100 a barrel make even complex efforts at recovery enormously profitable.

#ad#There were always known to be additional untapped reserves of oil and gas in the petroleum-rich Gulf of Mexico, off America’s shores, and in the American West and Alaska. But even the top energy experts never imagined just how vast the energy there was — or that it was also beneath far more unlikely places such as South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York. Some studies suggest the United States has now expanded its known potential gas and oil reserves tenfold.

The strategic and economic repercussions of these new finds are staggering, and remind us how a once energy-independent and thereby confident American economy soared to world dominance in the early 20th century.

America will soon again be able to supply all of its own domestic natural-gas needs — perhaps for the next 90 years at present rates of consumption. We have recently become a net exporter of refined gas and diesel fuel, and already have cut imported oil from OPEC countries by 1 million barrels per day.

With expanded exploration and conservation, the United States could also eventually supply half of its own petroleum needs. If we were to eliminate 5 million barrels of our current daily 9 million barrels of imported petroleum, the annual savings could reach nearly $200 billion per year. Eventually, the new gas and oil could add 1.6 million new jobs and up to nearly $1 trillion in federal revenue.

That windfall would cut out about a third of our present annual trade deficit — apart from additional income earned by new natural-gas exportation. “Investments,” “shovel-ready jobs,” and “stimulus” would finally become more than empty sloganeering.

But America’s new oil discoveries are not occurring in a vacuum. The entire Western Hemisphere is enjoying a fossil-fuel boom, from northern Canada to Brazil and Argentina. America’s backyard will soon be comparable to the oil-rich Persian Gulf, keeping more American money — and troops — at home. Illegal immigration should taper off as well, as oil-rich Latin American economies reap huge cash bonanzas. Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela will soon be simply one of many regional exporters.

Current crises in American foreign policy — Iran’s efforts to obtain the bomb, the protection of an embattled Israel, stopping the funding of radical Islamists — might be freed from the worries of perennial OPEC threats of cutoffs and price spikes.

Federal subsidies for inefficient corn-based-ethanol production in the Midwest also could cease. That would save the Treasury billions of dollars and allow millions of American acres to return to food production to supply an increasingly hungry world.

The Obama administration’s efforts to subsidize “green” energy so far have proved both uneconomical and occasionally corrupt — as we have seen in the Solyndra affair. Yet more gas and oil can offer America critical breathing space until better technology makes wind, solar, and electric power more price-competitive — without massive federal subsidies and a marked reduction in our standard of living.

#page#Of course, there are sizable interests opposed to the new American gas and oil finds — not all of them foreign governments, but instead reflected in the current Obama-administration policy of halting new pipelines, placing moratoriums on offshore drilling, and putting lucrative federal lands off-limits. Yet if the United States does not produce much of the fuel that it uses, will the oil-exporting Gulf sheikdoms, Nigeria, or Iran better protect the world’s environment than American-based oil companies? Would our oil dollars or theirs be less likely to fuel terrorism, illegal arms sales, and rogue regimes?

#ad#For the American poor and unemployed, how liberal is it, really, to keep energy prices high while stalling millions of high-paying private-sector jobs that would both lower government costs in entitlements and empower the working classes?

In the current presidential campaign, three issues dominate: national security, fiscal solvency, and high unemployment. Development of America’s vast new gas and oil finds would address all three at once.

The idea of vastly expanding American gas and oil production in the 21st century is almost as unbelievable as the present administration’s apparent reluctance to capitalize on its windfall.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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