Gary Becker

Fracking and Self-Sufficiency in Gas and Oil

More or less every American president starting with Dwight Eisenhower, and prioritized by Richard Nixon, called for American self-sufficiency in energy sources. In fact, America is now about self-sufficient in natural gas, and America’s oil imports have declined as a fraction of its total oil consumption from a peak of 60% in 2005 to about 50% in 2011. Part of the decline is due to the Great Recession’s effects on US output and automobile use. Another part is due to rising prices of oil that reduced oil imports, but increased spending on these imports. A third and growing part is due to increased domestic production of oil and especially gas that is likely to continue to grow rapidly during the next decade.

The main reason for the expansion in domestic gas and oil production is a technique called “hydraulic fracking”. Texas wildcatter George Mitchell was the most important person responsible for the development of the fracking method to extract gas from shale formations in the 1980s. This method uses large quantities of water under high pressure with added chemicals to crack open rocks and extract the gas, and sometimes oil, hidden in these rocks. The cost of using fracking for natural gas extraction has become so competitive that most US natural gas production comes from fracking. As a result, the price of natural gas has fallen from a peak of about $10.80 per million BTUs to $2.20 currently. Instead of building terminals that could import liquefied natural gas, energy companies are now trying to export more natural gas. US natural gas inventories are so bloated there is a possibility that the price temporarily could be forced down toward $0, or even to a negative level.

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