Ralph Benko

Happy New Year! Consider Keynes’s last words: “I should have drunk more champagne.” To avert similar rue when our own lives end let us pop an extra cork to celebrate a world undeniably confronting a tsunami of … affordable energy.

Daniel Yergin, in his latest and arguably most promethean work, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World, infuses a rich ingathering of information and analysis with the narrative power of a McMurtry, the human interest of an O. Henry, all shaken, not stirred, with a frisson of Ian Fleming.

Prosperity is emerging. How did the sourpuss Malthusians in the “Limits to Growth” league allow the heretical: abundance? Clearly someone from the Club of Rome slipped up — badly — and is destined to be burned at the stake. Probably with a fossil fuel.

“What are the prospects for the future?” Yergin asks. “[U]sing a database that includes 70,000 oil fields and 4.7 million individual wells, combined with existing production and 350 new projects… [t]he conclusion is that the world is clearly not running out of oil. Far from it. The estimates for the world’s existing stock keep growing.”

Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling turn North Dakota, an earlier adopter, into America’s fourth largest oil producing state, raising oil at a cost of around just $50 a barrel. Its economic growth is generating, to quote the doughtily dour New York Times, “too many unfilled jobs” — many going begging at $100,000 a pop.

As for gas Yergin observes:

“Over the next few years, the output of shale gas continued to increase. Some now started to call it the ‘shale gale.’ … As a result of the shale revolution, North America’s natural gas base, now estimated at 3,000 trillion cubic feet, could provide for current levels of consumption for over a hundred years—plus.”

Something so vast is occurring as to effect a dramatic transformation of, well, everything. Such ‘sociotectonic’ events can be hard to credit. They are too colossal. But Yergin assembles the pieces and provides us mere mortals with a clear view.

Not to fear. Environmentalists are rising to the challenge posed by the threat of unwonted prosperity! The New York Times, again, prominently, has issued many fatwas against hydraulic fracturing, many by Ian Urbina. Urbina’s rigor and objectivity have been challenged by former U.S. Department of Labor chief economist (now Hudson Institute scholar) Diana Furchtgott-Roth.

Ralph Benko

Ralph Benko, author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to use the Web to transform the world. He serves as an advisor to and editor of the Lehrman Institute's thegoldstandardnow.org and senior advisor to the American Principles Project.