Shale boom remakes US energy, economy

2013-09-25 09:29
Fracking rig. (AP file)

Fracking rig. (AP file)

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New York City - The US shale boom is remaking the nation's industrial landscape and raising the prospect of energy independence in the world's biggest oil consumer.

Booming oil and gas production is creating jobs, reinvigorating energy-consuming industries and remaking the US trade balance.

"The shale revolution is real and is transforming our industry," said Charles Ebinger, director of the energy security initiative at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

The shale boom, which began with a focus on natural gas, has shifted more recently to shale oil.

Shale oil production reached about two million barrels a day last year, pushing overall US output to 6.4 million barrels of oil per day, the most in 15 years and 32% above the level five years ago.

Economic picture

The boom has transformed the economic picture in parts of Pennsylvania, hit hard by the housing bust, while also catalysing activity in suddenly jobs-rich North Dakota.

The boom in non-conventional petroleum in 2012 added nearly 500 000 direct jobs, according to a study by research firm IHS. The total impact from the sector was 2.1 million jobs added including workers in oil-related lodging, food, transportation and construction.

IHS estimates that in 2012, the industry generated nearly $75bn in federal and state tax revenue and contributed $283bn to the US gross domestic product. These figures are expected to rise by 50% by 2020.

The sudden emergence of vast quantities of domestic energy has provided a boon to several energy-dependent sectors, particularly steel, petrochemicals and cement.

"We can become a low-cost producer of many goods that had moved offshore when prices of natural gas were higher," Ebinger said.

At the same time, the surging domestic energy supply has raised hopes the US can avert some $400bn in imported energy costs, said Ebinger.

The International Energy Agency, which develops energy policies for the major developed economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, predicts the US will surpass Saudi Arabia to become the world's biggest oil producer by 2020 and that North America will be a net exporter of oil around 2030.

Less consumption

But Raoul LeBlanc, an energy expert at PFC Energy, an energy consultancy, said shale production in the US is "probably decelerating", in part due to reduced energy demand here.

High oil prices are helping cut demand, he said, and there is a trend toward less gasoline consumption.

"People are driving less and getting better mileage" in part due to tougher fuel-economy standards enacted by the Obama administration, LeBlanc said.

Regardless of the exact balance in US supply and demand, even an energy self-sufficient US will stay preoccupied by the Middle East because oil will remain a global market.

The surge in domestic output "doesn't mean the US will be less concerned about market supply", Ebinger said. "If prices rise, our prices will rise too."

Moreover, the US remains hamstrung by gaps in its pipeline and oil infrastructure network that impede the ability to move crude from oilfields to refineries and other end users.

As the industry awaits more pipeline capacity, the US has seen an uptick in oil deliveries by rail and truck.
Read more on:    fracking  |  energy  |  environment

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