In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on USNews.com
OPEC met on Nov. 27, and openly recognized that the United States’ oil technological revolution – driven by enhanced oil recovery methods including hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) and horizontal drilling – has undermined the cartel’s economic and political power. This constitutes one of the major geopolitical and economic shifts of the 21st century in America’s favor. This meeting has been characterized as OPEC abandoning its role as a “swing producer” or simply the arbiter of oil supply and demand. Some are now suggesting that the new swing producer will be the United States.
Enhanced oil recovery technology was consistently denigrated as unworkable and unprofitable, and there will be many more articles restating this as the old wine in a new bottle. These technologies have made the U.S. the world’s number one oil producer, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia. OPEC’s strategy of allowing the market to decide oil prices is designed to hurt American enhanced oil recovery activities, with the assumption that American producers need a higher profit margin per barrel than it does. This may be a horrible miscalculation on OPEC’s part due to continual advances in technology and innovation.
According to a 2013 report, hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling have the potential to increase the global reserve of oil from 1.6 billion barrels to 10.2 billion barrels. Domestically, we are already witnessing the 21st century oil boom generate prosperity for states like Colorado, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming. Current estimates indicate that by 2020 the United States will be the dominant worldwide producer of both natural gas and oil and achieve energy independence.
However, this energy issue has been dominated by the wrong people: economists, businessmen, engineers and environmentalists. They all have their required expertise, but all of this is really an issue of foreign policy and national security. There are four ways that this new situation can be welcomed by conservatives, liberals, realists and environmentalists.
First, there is the potential for prosperity and profit at home as the United States re-enters the world as the most important exporter of petroleum and natural gas. This means jobs, investment and economic progress.
Second, the new room created by this boom will now allow the United States and the West to properly research, test and develop alternative energies allowing the market (and need) to dictate success and failure. There is no one concerned about national security who does not believe that we need to do this. We need to find cost effective, consistent, reliable alternative energy sources that do not kill the pocketbook of the electorate. This providential gift is exactly what we need to grant us more time to achieve that goal. The naysayers will say the opposite. The “earth is flat crowd” has always been destroyers, not innovators, and critics, not doers.
Third is the enhancement of freedom and human rights. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times introduced the concept of the “First Law of Petropolitics,” positing that as the price of oil increases, so does repression and lack of change in places like Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The reverse is true as well. Oil profits fund military adventurism, nuclear weapons development, terrorism, oppression, extremism, secret police and tyranny. These nations will engage in some if not all of these without oil, but the pressure on them to curtail or slow such malevolence, combined with increased pressure domestically (due to economic trouble), will occur.
Fourth, and most importantly, is the national security question. The American dominance in oil and natural gas gives us the leeway that presidents have sought for decades. It provides the ability to have a much freer hand with the Middle East, allowing us much more leverage with our de facto allies such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, while offering greater protection to our definitive allies like Israel. It means enhanced leverage against the Iranians, and it puts mounting pressure on them economically. It reduces the clout of irritants in international relations such as the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments.
This new energy era applies to Russia and Europe as well. It de-escalates Russian energy bullying while enhancing our ability to assist NATO partners. It could be utilized in situations such as that in Ukraine. It means that China approaches us to import natural gas, and we have more ability to assist South Korea and Japan. It has the potential to be a titanic shift in both American national security policy and geopolitics. We need to seize this opportunity aggressively and dynamically. It is a foreign policy and national security necessity.