U.S. Shale Helps Keep Global Oil Prices In Check

This week, the New York Times explored whether Americans should fear U.S. oil shocks in the wake of the current turmoil in Egypt, Syria, and Lybia. The consensus: “probably not.”

As the Times rightly notes, “Predictions about oil and gasoline prices are precarious when there are so many political and security hazards.” But one thing is overwhelmingly clear: The development of America’s shale resources is providing a level of supply security and price regularity for the global oil market, which means it’s also preventing the types of price spikes that ultimately harm American consumers.

According to the New York Times:

“On the supply side, more oil production in the United States, Canada, Iraq and Saudi Arabia has compensated for the loss of exports from Iran, Libya and other trouble spots. The spread of American shale-drilling technology and skill to developing countries promises to raise oil production around the world, particularly in non-OPEC countries with large untapped shale fields like Mexico, Argentina, China, Australia and Russia.”

“In fact, American oil supplies increased at the height of this summer’s Middle East crisis and driving season, allowing many refineries to ramp up production to meet demand without a hitch. The United States continues to consume more than 20 percent of world oil supplies, but now, once again, it also produces an increasing share of world supplies even as Russia and Saudi Arabia pump more.”

What does this production mean for U.S. oil prices? According to recent study from Turner, Mason & Company, a Dallas-based engineering consulting firm, “strong production growth in the U.S. and Canada will serve to keep a lid on crude prices.”

That’s great news, because production is going. From the article:

“American oil production alone has mushroomed by roughly three million barrels a day in the last six years to the highest levels in nearly a quarter of a century, and it should continue to grow from a current 7.6 million barrels a day to 9 million barrels a day by the end of the decade, Faisal Khan, managing director of Citi Research, told a Senate committee this summer.”

Turner, Mason & Company also projects continued production with a high-output forecast of 12 million barrels per day produced domestically by 2022, and a low-case scenario of 9.5 million barrels. Both would mean historic production and a potential for the United States to be the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer – if it isn’t already.

This may come as bad news for peak oil enthusiasts who have long doubted the availability of American energy, and even for many U.S. politicians who stated the “realities” of the global oil market. Even claims like the ones made in March 2012 by President Obama that the United States only holds two percent of the world’s oil – a claim repeated by many others in Congress – has been turned on its head. To wit:

  • Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV: “America has less than 2 percent of the oil reserves in the world but consumes more than 20 percent of the world’s oil supply each year.” (March 2012)
  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA: “Even as domestic oil production reaches its highest level in nearly a decade, we only hold 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, but we use about 20 percent of the oil produced every year.” (February 2012)
  • Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA: “We only have 2 percent of the oil reserves in the world, and we consume 25 percent of the world’s oil on a daily basis. That is nonsustainable.” (June 2010)
  • Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA: “We’re a country that consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil. The best estimate of what we have by way of oil resources in this country is 2 or 3 percent [of the world’s reserves]. So we’re never going to drill ourselves to complete independence, but we should develop the technology not to have to rely on oil at all.” (September 2012)
  • Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-CA: “While it’s tempting to think we can drill our way out of this, the numbers just don’t add up. Today, the United States has two percent of the world’s oil reserves but we consume twenty-five percent of all the oil.” (May 2011)

The point that these lawmakers were trying to make is that we can’t expect increased U.S. production to impact global prices, because our reserves are so small compared to, say, Russia and Saudi Arabia. The claim was always dubious, given that it hinged upon using the smallest possible indicator of recoverable oil in the United States, and comparing that against other wild estimates around the world. But thanks to U.S. shale development, American production is having a material impact, and it’s Russia and the Saudis that are increasingly looking at North America with anxiety, fearing that their market share could be overtaken by good ole Uncle Sam.

Put simply: Growth in shale plays like the Eagle Ford in Texas and the Bakken in North Dakota appeal to a different reality than the rhetoric many of our elected leaders have smugly promoted.

But for the U.S. economy, this production is providing tangible benefits. As IPAA explains in this week’s Declaration of Independents, “the effects of the U.S. oil and natural gas resurgence reach beyond the trade figures, influencing our country’s energy security and its standing in world energy markets.” A stable world oil price aided by increased domestic energy production is certainly welcomed news.


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