Forget peak oil; forget the Middle East. The energy revolution of the 21st century isn’t about solar energy or wind power and the “scramble for oil” isn’t going to drive global politics. The energy abundance that helped propel the United States to global leadership in the 19th and 2oth centuries is back; if the energy revolution now taking shape lives up to its full potential, we are headed into a new century in which the location of the world’s energy resources and the structure of the world’s energy trade support American affluence at home and power abroad.
By some estimates, the United States has more oil than Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran combined, and Canada may have even more than the United States. A GAO report released last May (pdf link can be found here) estimates that up to the equivalent of 3 trillion barrels of shale oil may lie in just one of the major potential US energy production sites. If half of this oil is recoverable, US reserves in this one deposit are roughly equal to the known reserves of the rest of the world combined.
Edward Luce, an FT writer usually more given to tracing America’s decline than to promoting its prospects, cites estimates that as early as 2020 the US may be producing more oil than Saudi Arabia.
So dramatic are America’s finds, analysts talk of the US turning into the world’s new Saudi Arabia by 2020, with up to 15m barrels a day of liquid energy production (against the desert kingdom’s 11m b/d this year). Most of the credit goes to private sector innovators, who took their cue from the high oil prices in the last decade to devise ways of tapping previously uneconomic underground reserves of “tight oil” and shale gas. And some of it is down to plain luck. Far from reaching its final frontier, America has discovered new ones under the ground.
Additionally, our natural gas reserves are so large that the US is likely to become a major exporter, and US domestic supplies for hydrocarbon fuels of all types appear to be safe and secure for the foreseeable future. North America as a whole has the potential to be a major exporter of fossil fuels for decades and even generations to come.