Monday, 11 February 2013

U.S.: ''Fracking'': The Potential geopolitical balance

The United States is sitting on massive natural gas and oil reserves that have the potential to shift the geopolitical balance in its favor. Worries are increasing in Russia and the Arab states of waning influence and falling market prices.

Williston, North Dakota, is a bleak little city in the vast American prairie. It's dusty in the summer and frigid in the winter. Moose hunting is one of the few sources of entertainment. But despite its drawbacks, Williston has seen its population more than double within a short period of time.

The city is so overcrowded that new arrivals often have no place to stay but in their motor homes, which, at monthly parking fees of $1,200 (€880), isn't exactly inexpensive. And more people continue to arrive in this nondescript little town.

The reason for the influx is simple: Geologists have discovered a layer of shale saturated with natural gas and oil deep beneath the city. The Bakken formation, spanning thousands of square kilometers, has become synonymous with an American economic miracle that the country hasn't experienced since the oil rush almost 100 years ago.

North Dakota now has virtual full employment, and the state budget showed an estimated surplus of $1.6 billion in 2012. Truck drivers in the state make $100,000 a year, while the strippers being brought in from Las Vegas rake in more than $1,000 a night.

President Barack Obama calls the discovery of Bakken and similar shale gas formations in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Utah a "stroke of luck," saying: "We have a hundred years' worth of energy right beneath our feet."

The future of the American energy supply was looking grim until recently. With its own resources waning, the United States was dependent on Arab oil sheiks and erratic dictators. Rising energy costs were hitting a vital nerve in the country's industrial sector.

But the situation has fundamentally changed since American drilling experts began using a method called "fracking," with which oil and gas molecules can be extracted from dense shale rock formations.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the United States will replace Russia as the world's largest producer of natural gas in only two years. The Americans could also become the world's top petroleum producers by 2017.

The US is also in early stages of an energy windfall that will transform its attractiveness as location to do business. In addition to the unfolding energy shock, which will lower the cost of electricity and feeds-in stock for many kinds of production, the cost of American labour looks increasingly attractive next to wage inflation in China and other emerging market economies.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, the US could create between 2m and 5m new manufacturing jobs between now and 2020.That would make up for between one-third and three-quarters of what it has lost in the past decade. On top that, the US housing market has finally bottomed out and is likely once again to become a net plus to US growth.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: Wikip├ędia. US President Barack Hussein Obama