The Great Turnaround

Paul Greenberg
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Posted: Dec 02, 2014 1:28 PM
The Great Turnaround

And they say there's no good news in the paper. But when it comes to oil, oil prices, oil diplomacy and just about everything else connected to this country's shale-oil boom, there's little but good news to report either at home or abroad. From the gas pump to international conferences, it's all good. Unless you're a gigantic corporation that's exploited this country's addiction to petroleum for years at immense profits. Or a rapacious oil sheik or dictator who's exploited not only his own people but the rest of the world. In that case, it couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch.

The drop in oil prices as American producers move into high gear isn't just good news for this country's consumers but the whole economy, for so much of it runs on oil and gas. And a variety of other petroleum products. No wonder the stock market keeps edging up despite the drop in oil shares. Investors can look at the big picture, and it's definitely acquired a rosy glow. 

Granted, it's bad news for the old oil cartel, formally known as OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which for as long as memory runneth not to the contrary has had the rest of the world by the throat, or rather the pipeline. 

But now this country is about to get still another pipeline of its own. The Keystone XL is to carry not only American oil but that produced by Canada's tar sands down to the Gulf of Mexico, where it'll be refined and begin to flow out not just to American markets but the rest of the world. Which means it'll reduce the price of oil for all, and bolster our friends and allies worldwide. For they could no longer be held hostage by oil-rich autocrats who have controlled the oil tap for so long -- and used it to bully others. Case in point: Moscow's threats to leave countries like Ukraine, Poland and Germany shivering in the cold unless they bow to the Kremlin's will. 

But what's the new Autocrat of All the Russias, aka Vladimir Putin, to do now? Some 45 percent of his country's now shaky budget depends on oil revenues, and they're dropping as fast as the ruble. 

What a reversal of fortunes as dictatorships around the world face new competition from a free market now starting to overflow with oil and gas to export. Even this American president, who's dragged his feet every step of the way as American producers sought to take advantage of this hopeful new development in the country's petroleum industry, is not above taking credit for the dramatic improvement in American oil production. He may have been short of vision, but nerve he's always got. 

Let's hear it for those who've led the way -- from the new shale-oil fields in the Dakotas to the old, suddenly rejuvenated oil industry in Texas. Congratulations all around and Drill, Baby, Drill. 'Cause we ain't seen nothin' yet despite all the naysayers hiding behind imaginary fears and scare stories about environmental dangers. Earthquakes! Poisonous gases! Dry-as-dust aquifers! You name the menace, and shale-oil is to blame for it. 

But the American people no longer scare as easily. They begin to realize that shale-oil drilling goes on deep under the water table, where no harm can be done if proper precautions are taken. Like double-casing the pipes that bring the petroleum to the surface. Reason returns. 

What a surprising turn of events. Though it's doubtful it would have surprised George P. Mitchell, the old Texas wildcatter who had this strange idea of using fluids under high pressure to break up rocks far below the surface of the Earth -- and pumping up the natural gas that the process released. He spent his last years and the last fortune he'd made in the old fields pioneering a technique called hydraulic fracturing (now known as fracking for short) in Texas' Barnett Shale, and finally got everybody else's attention. He kept faith with his own vision despite disappointment after disappointment, and now it's produced this gusher that's changing the world. For much the better.