Wait, the United States of America is set to become a net exporter of what?

Energy & Resources

By Patrick Kerns

The recently released World Energy Outlook 2012 from the International Energy Agency (IEA) cited the potential for North America, most significantly the United States of America, to become a net exporter of energy within the next decade. IEA Executive Director, Maria van der Hoeven, notes that, “North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world, yet the potential also exists for a similarly transformative shift in global energy efficiency.”

What is driving the change? A mix of factors have impacted the balance of the use of traditional energy supplies – ranging from more-efficient vehicles, homes and buildings to an increased focus on renewables. However, nothing has tipped the balance more than the growth of fracking.

The recent surge in energy activity using the fracking technique has opened, expanded or revitalized many areas where drilling and recovery was thought to be impossible for oil and natural gas.

The IEA report notes that the outlook for natural gas production, including gas to be tapped from our local Marcellus Shale, “Looks to be bright, as demand increases by 50% to 5 trillion cubic meters in 2035. Nearly half of the increase in production to 2035 is from unconventional gas, with most of this coming from the United States, Australia and China.”

Concerns remain, though, about the long-term impacts on the environment and water. The IEA report notes that “the energy sector already accounts for 15% of the world’s total water use.” Combined with population growth, cyclical droughts and increased food costs, fracking will continue to pit energy development against the health and welfare of the existing population in many areas.

While the balance of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ power won’t shift overnight, it does provide the United States with a unique opportunity to regain its energy independence.

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