Remember when Sarah Palin was leading the chant “Drill, baby, drill”? In those days, during and after the Republican convention of 2008, the issue was oil. Now it’s oil and natural gas, and not just low prices and energy independence.
In March, the Guardian ran a story about a large-scale export agreement that will result in 2 million homes in the U.K. being heated with shale gas—the gas produced by fracking—from the U.S.
When the gas arrives late in 2018, the article noted, it will likely be “the first time major exports of the controversial energy source are used in the UK… Shale gas exploitation has been blamed for environmental problems in the U.S., including water, ground and air pollution and leaks of methane.”
Follow this concept—exports of American natural gas, a commodity the government traditionally made difficult to sell abroad so it would be most easily available to Americans—and you arrive at the information that the U.S. is on the road to becoming a leading exporter of energy. World Energy Outlook, a publication of the International Energy Agency, has predicted that by 2035 the U.S. will be a net exporter of natural gas, and will achieve energy self-sufficiency by 2035. By that time, WEO adds, “North America” (the U.S. and Canada) will emerge as a net exporter of oil.
There may be benefits to the U.S.’ emergence as a net energy exporter. That development is seen as positive for our economy, and for that reason the New York Times is urging the government to liberalize its position on gas exports.
And in becoming a net exporter of oil as well as gas, we may achieve positive results in our foreign policy—because our dependence on Middle Eastern energy sources would continue to decline, and for other reasons.
But here’s the point that needs clarification. What many Americans understood Palin and the Republicans to be saying amid all the shouting of “Drill, baby, drill” was that developing more energy sources would benefit Americans by making more energy for basic needs available here at lower prices. The chant was a come-on for people who had trouble paying for heating oil, or for gas to get them to their jobs.
The chanters didn’t bring up the export factor, which affects the equation when you’re talking about potential environmental damage due to drilling and fracking.
As we allow these practices, risking water supply pollution and perhaps even earthquakes and other consequences of destabilizing geological structures, the energy we exploit may or may not get us to work or keep our homes from freezing. It may be headed to a foreign country to make profits for energy companies. That could leave regions of our country in a situation rather like that of developing countries that put up with environmental damage for the sake of financial benefits to a relatively small number of their own— or foreign—industrialists.•