You just can’t please the apple-knockers, soreheads and doom-criers. Everyone who ever sat in a long line back in the 1970s, waiting for an hour or two to get a few gallons of gasoline, often entertained himself with a fantasy of big oil strikes to put the Saudi princes in their place, preferably on a planet in an obscure universe far, far away.
Now, through the innovation of modern technology, we have that strike — not only oil, but something better, because it’s cheaper, cleaner and there’s lots of it. The Saudi princes are looking for a place to run.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the royal billionaires, says Saudi Arabia is under “threat” because of fracking, the technology of extracting gas and oil from energy deposits deep underground. Growing supplies — actual supplies, not merely reserves — in the U.S. have dramatically cut demand for Saudi oil.
The prince has written to Ali al-Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, to complain that demand for oil from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), “is in serious decline.” He warns that the Saudis should diversify their economy. More than 90 percent of the revenues in the current Saudi government budget comes from armed robbery, i.e., using the hose at a gasoline pump as the weapon.
The prince is not a part of the government, but as a businessman who likes to speak his mind as owner of Kingdom Holding, an international investment firm, he often says things government officials don’t want to say.
Naturally this good fortune makes the teeth of environmentalists itch, their hair hurt and their shoes ache. The greenies don’t like the Keystone pipeline, which would bring crude down from our Canadian friends, and they don’t like fracking, and not just in America.
Demonstrators have been hanging out at an English village in West Sussex, where test drilling is about to begin, inviting arrest. England being England, there’s a quaintness to the misbehavior. Five were arrested for “causing a danger to road users” and 12 were cited under a trade unions act, for “preventing workers from accessing their work site.”
Britain, like the U.S., discovered that the reserves of energy locked up underground are far larger than first thought. One site in Lancashire is thought to harbor 1,300,000,000,000 cubic feet of gas. (That’s almost as much gas as Congress has produced in debates over abortion, gun control, or immigration reform.) Prime Minister David Cameron’s ministers look to the U.S. as the example of how shale energy boosts tax revenues, creates jobs, reduces imports of energy and drives down household bills.
But it’s the Americans who are giving the Arabs the willies. The new World Energy Outlook report, made annually by the International Energy Authority, predicts that within the next few years, the U.S. will surpass Saudi Arabia as the largest oil-producer on the globe. It gets even better: “The result is a continued fall in U.S. oil imports,” the agency says, “to the extent that North America becomes a net oil exporter around 2030.”
The doom-criers, who will always be with us, predicted back in the ‘70s that this could never be: The world was running out of oil, the fault mostly of the Americans who were using more than their share, and soon we would all be sitting around in the dark, trying to remember television. The doom-criers are still at work, decrying fracking as the doom upon us.
Hydraulic fracking is not new. Before World War II, the oil and gas companies in Texas and Oklahoma discovered that under extreme pressure water, sand and chemicals could be forced into a shale formation, loosening the shale and releasing oil and gas. The chemicals and the water under pressure crack open the shale, the grains of sand keep the fractures open and the escaping oil and gas does the rest.
The environmental skeptics argue that the fracking brine, released into the earth, could despoil drinking water. The seismic plunder of the nether regions might set off earthquakes. Burning the resulting fuel could make global warming worse, even though the globe hasn’t warmed very much yet.
But the discovery of this abundant new energy thwarts President Obama’s scheme to downsize America, to make it too small to harass the nations of the Third World, so long mistreated by the ogres of the West. Theirs is a fantasy, too, of an America cut down to a size to match the dreamers of small dreams. They should frack that.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.