Paul Greenberg

Daniel Yergin's analyses of that debacle always stood apart, characterized by their recognition that market forces would work if given a chance to. And they did. Or else we wouldn't be wondering today what ever happened to the Energy Crisis. It's nowhere to be seen or painfully felt. The relief is palpable, if anybody would care to notice.

This happy ending hasn't been the result of price controls, rationing and all the rest of those counter-productive "fixes" that still attract statist theoreticians. It turns out the country wasn't so much addicted to oil all those errant years as to the quack cures government kept producing to cure our addiction.

As for the shortage of natural gas, it's vanishing, too, as the process nicknamed fracking (for Induced Hydraulic Fracturing) continues to revolutionize the nation's petroleum industry -- and, increasingly, the world's. There are other reasons for this revolution, like the expansion of drilling in Alaska, the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, but fracking may be the biggest explanation for the dramatic turnaround in petroleum production.

American oil output is up by more than half just since 2008. Oil imports, which accounted for 60 percent of the country's domestic consumption in 2005, is now down to 35 percent, or about where it was before these successive Energy Crises first struck in 1973.

The fading of the Energy Crisis from the news has been so happy if scarcely noticed a development that a president who's dragged his feet every step along the way, and who still finds ways to discourage drilling in the Gulf and continues to hold up construction of the XL pipeline to carry all that oil from Canada, now takes credit for this turnaround in American fortunes.

Did you notice that the country's trade deficit fell in October? The good news was attributed largely to oil exports, which have risen to an all-time high. Not because of this administration's policies but despite them.

If there's credit to be given, and there certainly is, the lion's share of it should go to a man who's scarcely mentioned by this president and his coterie of economic theorists: George P. Mitchell, the old wildcatter, dreamer, investor and inventor who died earlier this year at the age of 94. Born of immigrant Greek parents in Galveston, he was just about the most American character in this country's recent economic history -- always trying something new, always moving on to the next dream after the first one went bust. The man just would never give up.

George Mitchell never gave up on the offbeat idea of fracking despite years of disappointment and ridicule as he pursued black gold in the Barnett Shale out in the middle of Texas. He was always staking whatever he had left on one more roll of the dice. Till he hit the jackpot for us all.

And, please, Mr. President, don't tell us he "didn't build that." Some of us know better. And realize it on those rare occasions when we wonder what ever happened to the Energy Crisis. What did? It fell victim to an American entrepreneur named George Mitchell and all those others who followed in his footsteps through one now booming oilfield after another. Let's just say the Energy Crisis was done in by the free market -- once it was freed.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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