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How America can be top energy producer
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

For decades, Americans have lamented their dependence on foreign energy, especially Middle East oil. Now, however, the tables are turning. Growing numbers of analysts are concluding that within a decade, America could become the world's top energy producer.

That would certainly be desirable. Substantial expansion of domestic energy would generate tens of thousands of jobs, lower everyday energy expenses and eliminate our dependence on unstable Middle East governments.

But that future is far from guaranteed. We have the entrepreneurship and technological innovation we need. The question is whether we'll have the smart public policies that allow them to flourish.

While America's energy prospects have never been brighter, regulators have never been more vehement in their push for restrictive controls on development of new projects.

Of course, we must protect the environment and ensure worker safety. But lawmakers have gone well beyond that, and they need to scale back the needless and costly rules if we are to have any hope of reaching our full potential.

There are three obvious places to start with reform.

First, regulators need to ease restrictions on hydraulic fracturing.

"Fracking" uses water pressure to extract oil and natural gas from shale formations buried deep under the earth's crust. This technique is already in widespread use in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. The energy boom in that state has led to astonishing economic growth and 3 percent unemployment.

The massive shale deposits in America could, if fully developed, profoundly change our energy landscape. But so far, oppressive state and federal rules have prevented firms realizing this potential.

Most of the environmental concerns over fracking, which turn on possible groundwater contamination, are based on misinformation or a misunderstanding of the process. This technique has been around since the 1940s. More than 1.2 million wells have been successfully fracked.

The shale formations disrupted by the process are separated from water aquifers by up to two miles of rock, limestone, sand and earth. And over 99 percent of the standard fracking liquid mixture is simply water.

In other words, fracking presents very little environmental risk — and massive potential for economic gains. By some estimates, natural gas development in the Marcellus alone would create over 100,000 new jobs.

The second major way federal regulators can promote American energy is to open up off-shore energy reserves for drilling. After the tragic Deepwater Horizon spill, the Interior Department instituted a rigid drilling moratorium that effectively halted offshore development. Eventually, the courts forced regulators to ease the ban, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty and delay surrounding the offshore permit process.

Since the moratorium was announced, 11 major ocean drilling operations have closed shop, destroying an estimated 91,000 jobs.

The Deepwater disaster certainly justifies targeted safety standards for offshore drilling. But the status quo is overkill — imagine if federal aviation officials grounded all flights forever after a single crash.

Finally, the Obama administration needs to grant full approval for the construction of Keystone XL — a planned $7 billion, 2,000-mile pipeline that would carry oil from Canadian shales to refineries in Texas.

Extensive environmental analysis by the State Department and others shows Keystone would have minimal adverse effects on surrounding areas. Constructing and maintaining the pipeline would create 130,000 new jobs.

It is indeed possible for the United States to become the world's premier energy producer by 2020. But reaching that goal requires policy makers to identify and eliminate regulatory barriers that are now keeping America from achieving its astounding energy potential.

Chris Faulkner is the CEO of Breitling Oil & Gas.

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