The Shale Boom and the Likely Shift in the Global Balance of Power
The shale boom will primarily benefit democratic countries such as the United States, which has large shale reserves. Europe has been slower to adopt the processes needed to extract oil and gas from shale economically.
Oil shale is a sedimentary rock that contains kerogen, a mixture of organic compounds from which oil can be extracted. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of fracturing layers of rock by injecting a liquid into a fault under high pressure with equipment that uses diesel engines. This process releases a variety of petroleum products for extraction such as oil and gas.
Shale is a highly porous rock, so the technology needed to extract shale oil and shale gas wasn’t developed until 1997. This particular fracking technique is known specifically as “slickwater fracturing” because it involves the use of additional chemicals to increase the flow of fluid through the pipeline. The United States and several other countries are currently planning to use slickwater fracking to produce oil and gas from shale on a commercial scale.
Fracking is allowing the US to gradually reduce its dependence on foreign oil by extracting it from sources that were previously uneconomical to recover. The wars in the Middle East and the 2008 financial crisis have caused the US to adopt a less aggressive foreign policy and become more concerned with domestic issues. The prospect of becoming self-sufficient will therefore reduce the US’s need to protect the Middle East and the shipping lanes needed to transport fossil fuels.
The shale boom is allowing the US to increase its production of oil and gas more quickly than any other country in the world. Citigroup reports that the US has increased its production rate by 2.59 million barrels of oil per day over the last five years. This bank also predicts that shale extraction will drive an increase of 6.6m b/d by 2020.
Shale extraction has been less productive in Europe, where early attempts at fracking have been disappointing. This source of fossil fuel is also less profitable due to abundant coal deposits. More important issues have also prevented the development of fracking technology in Europe. For example, the Houston Chronicle reports that German brewers are lobbying to block fracking attempts due to the possible contamination of groundwater used to make beer. That’s a shame… so we’ll be sending more engines and diesel generators and natural gas generators down in South America where shale growth is more welcome.