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American oil boom

Published October 27, 2012 1:01 am

The good news and the bad news
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The good news: Production of petroleum in the United States is soaring.

Next year promises to set a record for domestic production and, at current rates, the good ol' U.S. of A. will be the top oil producer in the world, surpassing Saudi Arabia, by the year 2020.

This puts the lie to the Republican claim that the Obama administration has the desire, or the ability, to squash domestic production and leave us increasingly vulnerable to a dangerous dependence on foreign sources of energy.

The bad news: Production of petroleum in the United States is soaring.

The continuing high prices for raw crude, prompted by increasing demand from China, India and other rapidly industrializing nations, has encouraged drillers to invest in new methods and expand their exploration to areas previously thought too low-yield to bother with. The result is pressure to drill in places, and in ways, that threaten our environment, from the appearance of national treasures to the safety of our water.

The most important thing to understand about this situation is that the price of oil, and thus the price you pay for gasoline, has little to do with any decision made in Washington. It has more to do with the world oil market, currently driven by the exploding demand of many nations.

With that fact should come the understanding that, to a significant degree, the American desire for energy independence and our wish for cheap gas are mutually exclusive. The increase in domestic production has almost nothing to do with rules laid down, or relaxed, by puny governments and everything to do with the incentive of mighty markets.

The good side is the fact that high oil prices drive domestic production. The money we spend on American oil — at the pump, at the airport and for every item in the store that came by truck or by rail — at least stays in America, providing jobs and circulating through the American economy.

And if high fuel prices become the new normal, that should encourage the development of more environmentally friendly alternatives. And help us appreciate the Obama administration's rule to increase fuel efficiency of cars.

The bad side is that high prices motivate drillers, and the states that see a benefit from the economic activity they will create, to permit environmentally risky schemes, such as the large-scale mining of tar sands that has been approved for Utah's Book Cliffs with far too little concern for its impact on the region's water supply.

It's going to be a wild ride.