Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave for the past year you’ve probably heard that U.S. oil and gas production is going strong. In fact, it’s going like gangbusters. According to reports, U.S. oil output was the highest in November in 25 years at 8 million barrels per day. As a result, the price of gasoline has dropped by 49 cents/gallon. At this rate, the U.S. could shortly end up being one of the top oil producing countries in the world. In fact, it has been reported that a Saudi prince wrote a letter to the Saudi oil minister warning him that the surging U.S. oil production is a threat to the Saudi economy. For someone who distinctly remembers people riding their bikes to work in the late ’70s, I never thought I’d hear something like that.
A similar boom is going on with natural gas produced through fracking, and the U.S has become the largest producer of natural gas in the world. According to the Energy Information Administration website, the U.S. produced almost 30 million cubic feet of natural gas in 2012.
This new found energy production is having impacts elsewhere too. Oil and gas employment has increased 40 percent over the last 5 years.
Fracking also has created a huge demand for sand (a key ingredient in the fracking process). As noted in the Wall Street Journal, energy companies are expected to use 56 billion pounds of sand this year and it takes approximately 25 railcars of sand to frack one well.
The increased production and use of natural gas also appears to have had a positive environmental impact. By some accounts, C02 emissions in the U.S. have dropped 12% due to the switch from coal to natural gas.
Amidst all of this positive news, taxpayers, scientists and regulators are keeping a watchful eye on these industries due to health, safety and environmental concerns. In Oklahoma (a state with an average of 50 tremors per year) there have been 2,600 earthquakes in 2013 and the increase coincides with rise in fracking. The cause? Scientists suspect it’s due to the pressures created when fracking wastewater is injected deep underground. Other issues such as groundwater withdrawal and contamination also have been raised.
As with many aspects of our increasingly complex lives, as the U.S. enjoys the fruits of these energy resources, society will have to make hard policy decisions relating to the management of these risks and benefits.