The New York Times had a front-page article yesterday titled “US Inches Toward Goal of Energy Independence“. This made me froth at the mouth, because it is pure, uncut horseshit. There has been a bit of crowing recently about how oil and gas production is way, way up, and things are looking bright for the world of fossil fuels. But this jubilation is a purely seasonal phenomenon; that is, the press is merely carrying water for the President in an election year where gasoline prices are once again back at their all-time pinnacle.
It’s true that, thanks to the opening of previously off-limits offshore areas, oil productivity is up in the United States for the first time in a long time. In fact, production is up since 2004 by a whopping 4.7%.
“Wait, what the fuck?” I hear you asking.i Yep, sorry to bust the bubble that quickly, but there really isn’t that much of a bonanza. Individual regions might be more productive, but the US as a whole is way past its oil heydey. And in case there might be any air left at all in that bubble, let’s kill it with a graph:
Now you can see that we’ve managed to increase our oil productivity so much, it’s all the way back up to what it was in 2003. Hey, great!
The obvious lesson here is that American oil productivity is over. There simply is not that much oil left in the ground in the United States; we pulled out about half of it by 1969, and most of the rest since. There might be a small bump from the untapped resources offshore, but this is expensive and difficult to get at, and in case you’ve forgotten, as the New York Times seems to have, sometimes there are problems associated with this kind of drilling.
You’ll also note that the total of production & imports is down since its high point in 2004.ii That is, the “glut” is merely the result of conservation resulting from high gasoline prices combined with severe recession and economic contraction.
The story for gas is only slightly different. Unlike oil, gas is a bit more local, meaning what happens on the American market can actually affect prices. And while it stagnated for a long while, gas production really is up again, by almost 25%, which is a real meaty number for a change. Check out this graph:
Hey, all right! Production is back up to what it was in the 60s. Great news, right? Well, okay, but let’s just add in consumption and see what’s happening:
Aww, seriously? Well, at least here we can see that production has a hope of crossing over consumption at some point in the next decade, so we might become a net exporter of the stuff if the trend continues. This boom, of course, is purportedly thanks to the much-ballyhooed and maligned hydraulic “fracking” fracturing technique, which allows us to access lots of previously inaccessible gas trapped in shale deposits. How much is recoverable this way, you ask? Well, the USGS believes that the Marcellus Shale, the huge deposit underlying the eastern United States, probably contains 84 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, which at our current consumption rate of 24 Tcf/year should give us an additional err, um. Yeah.
Anyway, that’s all that’s worth saying about that. The rest of it, the lunacy of cheering a move in the wrong direction, the slavish toadying to kiss the boot of power, you know all that stuff. I’m tired of repeating myself.