Mona Charen: Hydrocarbons are the only viable option, for now
Though you wouldn’t necessarily know it based on news coverage, the United States in the reign of President Barack Obama is enduring the most prolonged period of slow growth and high unemployment since World War II. The president asserts that he saved us from another Great Depression, which, like his claim that the stimulus would “create or save” millions of jobs, is about as provable as the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.
The Obama administration has done little to spur job creation, but a great deal to inhibit it. The president mocks the idea of deregulation (“cut two regulations and call me in the morning”), but the new layers of rules and directives his administration has layered over the already-existing sedimentary encrustations cannot have helped.
There is one segment of the economy that has defied the trough, though, and that’s energy. The U.S. is now the world’s leading producer of hydrocarbons. The International Energy Agency predicts that the U.S. will produce more petroleum than either Saudi Arabia or Russia by 2015. For the first time since 1949, the U.S. is a net exporter of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. For the past several years, the oil and gas industry has added between $300 billion and $400 billion annually to the economy. Without the hydrocarbon boom, the economy would still be in recession.
Obama has attempted to take credit for the boom in domestic energy production. His website boasts, “The President established a national goal in 2011 to reduce oil imports by one third …”
The president can issue goals and schedules to his heart’s content, but like so much else about his tenure, these words are piffle. As noted by Mark Mills, an energy analyst at the Manhattan Institute, the president had absolutely nothing to do with the energy renaissance that is reshaping our economy and can do more.
Neither did Big Oil. Small businesses, most with fewer than 15 employees, are responsible for 75 percent of America’s energy production. “Fracking” is only part of the story. The boom in onshore energy production is the result of American technological prowess wedded to entrepreneurial genius. Computers and cameras guide probes below ground, minimizing dry holes. Horizontal drilling permits seams long inaccessible to be tapped.
Rumor has it that in North Dakota, epicenter of the Bakken formation, workers are in such demand that McDonald’s is paying up to $18 an hour. The state currently enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and boasts a $1 billion budget surplus.
The boom is not limited to North Dakota. At least 16 other states have more than 150,000 workers associated with the energy industry. In the states most associated with the fracking revolution – Pennsylvania, Colorado, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Wyoming – statewide employment growth has beaten the national average.
Is the domestic energy expansion bad for the environment? Certainly not when natural gas replaces coal. Besides, the world has not yet figured out how to power itself with other energy sources. Ethanol, which consumes 40 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., provides only 5 percent of transportation energy. Renewables – including hydropower, biomass wood, wind, solar and geothermal – accounted for just 9.3 percent of U.S. energy use in 2012, despite government subsidies. The developing world, including China, India and Brazil, are unwilling to sacrifice economic growth on the altar of climate change. Germany, which made a hasty and emotional switch away from nuclear power after Fukushima and made a heavy investment in wind power, is now building dirty coal generation plants to cope with rising prices.
Democrats can sneer at so-called deniers all they like, but they themselves are denying a hard reality: Hydrocarbons will continue to power the world for the foreseeable future. There is no other fuel that can put planes in the air, for example. If carbon dioxide is causing the planet to warm (and the models significantly overestimated the amount of warming so far), mankind will have to find ways to cope with the problem other than massive taxes to discourage CO2 use. Maximizing natural gas usage is one such step. Basic research and development on improving batteries, solar cells and other technologies is another. Seawalls, dikes and other ameliorating efforts are a third.
In the interim, the energy boom in the U.S. is a job creator, a boon to our friends (like Canada, Britain and Israel – also poised to exploit the new technologies) and a setback for our adversaries.
Mona Charen is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.