- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2010

As our nation’s leaders ponder options to jump-start our stalled national economy, they should take a long, hard look at North Dakota.

North Dakota’s unemployment rate, 3.6 percent, is the lowest in the nation, and state policymakers are wrestling with problems that are the envy of most other states - such as how best to spend their state’s growing budget surplus. New oil-drilling and -extraction technologies have opened up North Dakota’s 200,000 square-mile Bakken Shale formation.

In 2008, North Dakota reported producing more than 62 million barrels of oil, and 25,000 full-time jobs have been created directly and indirectly as a result, according to North Dakota University. North Dakota is not alone in enjoying the benefits of carbon-based fuel production made possible by unconventional extraction technologies. New drilling techniques for shale gas also have made a profound - although more geographically dispersed - contribution to the economy. They generate hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country and significantly lower the cost of home heating and cooking for millions of families.

As important as these developments have been to local and regional economies, they represent only a fraction of the potential production that advances in oil- and gas-production technologies are making possible. Most notably, America has yet to tap its largest domestic fuel resource: oil shale. This sedimentary rock, rich in organic hydrocarbons, yields a high-grade synthetic oil when heated. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Piceance Basin in northwestern Colorado contains more than 1.5 trillion barrels of in-place oil. That is more than five times the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and could supply all of America’s liquid transportation and heating-fuel needs for at least a century. By comparison, the Bakken play is small potatoes.

Shell, Chevron, Total SA and IDT together are among the companies currently pursuing oil-shale projects on federal lands to demonstrate shale-oil extraction technologies that are both economically viable and environmentally responsible. The benefits of increasing domestic carbon-fuels production go far beyond job creation. Domestic energy production moderates energy prices generally, enhances the nation’s economic and strategic security, supports American manufacturing and generates badly needed federal, state and local tax revenues.

All this is not to say that America should not invest heavily and aggressively in renewable energy sources. We should, but North Dakota’s booming economy is a wake-up call: New technologies to extract carbon-based fuels can play a crucial role in getting America’s economy back on track and putting Americans back to work.

HOWARD JONAS

Chairman and chief executive

IDT Corp.

Newark, N.J.