Posted June 18, 2013
Great question during the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual energy conference this week – paraphrasing: Given the technologies, the innovation and risk-taking that mark today’s oil and natural gas industry, what‘s the ceiling for oil and gas development over the next few decades? The U.S. Geological Survey’s Donald Gautier took a crack at it:
“Every time I look at world oil or gas resources, I start adding things up, and I end up with enormous numbers. It just seems like an unavoidable fact, and the issue is about human activities and the contraptions they’re using for getting this out. There is certainly no shortage of molecules out there.”
In other words, oil and natural gas potential will be defined by us – through energy leadership, vision and policy. It will be about the willingness of policymakers in this country to fully embrace the present and future promise of oil and natural gas riches reflected in a number of analyses, including BP’s Statistical Review released last week:
- 8.9 million barrels of oil produced in 2012, the United States’ highest output since 1991. With the U.S. revolution in unconventional reserves, estimates of our oil potential continue to grow.
- The U.S. was the world’s largest producer of natural gas last year, 681 billion cubic meters or 65.89 billion cubic feet per day, accounting for 20 percent of global output. The 4.7 percent rise in U.S. production over 2011 led the world.
Southwestern Energy Company’s Jim Tramuto:
“Whatever you’re reading, whoever you’re listening to, the numbers just continue to grow … because we continue to get smarter at what we do, we continue to become more efficient. … We have abundant supply here, right below our feet.”
So, what will America do? EIA’s conference is one big clearinghouse for energy stats, tables and big-screen presentations – and the people who feast on them. As Tramuto says, data points to the reality of oil and natural gas abundance but we have to choose policies that can turn potential into reality: greater access to reserves, common-sense regulation, leasing and permitting policies that foster investment and development instead of impeding it. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska touched on the challenge of meshing energy wealth and pro-development policies:
“We now have the technology to access resources we simply couldn’t get to before. The domestic challenge for us is that we face this accompanying shift above ground, but it’s not necessarily keeping pace with what is happening (below ground). You’ve got above ground, below ground, it’s just not lining up here.”
Part of it is escaping a past narrative of limited U.S. energy resources. Southern Company President and CEO Thomas Fanning:
We need to “find a way, to play offense in what otherwise is considered to be broadly a challenged (economic) environment. I’m happy to say that I think the energy complex broadly – oil, natural gas, coal, electricity, we can. I think it’s exciting – something you haven’t seen in your lifetime. … Energy policy today is based on scarcity. … I believe we could be a net energy exporter by 2020.”
“I think part of the problem we’re dealing with is almost psychological. So many of us grew up in an era where energy was viewed as scarce, so we’re looking at the energy world from a position of scarcity but with the developments, the alternatives we see, as we see these changes, we need to now reckon with the fact that we are dealing from a position of abundance.”
This abundance should be embraced. We’re seeing a revolution in U.S. oil and natural gas production – levels not seen in decades. Technology and innovation are making it possible. It can be sustained and increased if policymakers recognize the generational opportunity at hand to secure our energy future, create jobs and grow our economy. Murkowski:
“The list of economic benefits to our nation is endless. I think it is only just beginning.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.