Last week the Wall Street Journal posted an article with an optimistic premise: the United States is now the largest producer of fossil fuels on the planet.
My immediate reaction was skepticism. I went to the WSJ website and listened to an interview with a reporter in Houston covering this development. Some details emerged: 1) most of the fossil fuel generation was due to enhanced natural gas generation from fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and 2) fracking is expensive and 3) as a result, oil produced from fracking only makes sense if the price of oil stays above $90 per barrel. This explains why even with the recent oil shale boom, gasoline prices are still hovering above $3 per gallon.
I decided to investigate recent oil production trends. I went to the U.S Energy Information Administration website and uncovered a graph “U.S. Field Production Crude Oil.” I observed the following: 1920 national oil production was 443 million barrels per year, peak production in 1970 was 3,517 million barrels per year and the lowest production since peak was 1,830 million barrels per year in 2008. 2012 production was 2,375 million barrels per year. My conclusion is that fracking has increased domestic oil production by about 25 percent.
The Wall Street Journal has it right about fracking. It is expensive. Not only are there huge energy costs to inject fluids at high pressure to fracture rock, but consider these costs to our environment: 250 billion gallons of fresh water consumed to generate 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, 360,000 acres of land degraded. Fracking is false hope.