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May 17, 2013

Colorado’s Rocky Mountains loom over the site of a natural gas hydraulic fracturing operation.
Colorado’s Rocky Mountains loom over the site of a natural gas hydraulic fracturing operation.

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
May 16, 2013

Use of new technologies is bringing unexpectedly large increases in available, affordable energy for the United States, a trend that will ripple through global markets, the energy supply chain and economies.

At the same time, the world faces scientifically confirmed changes in the environment, brought on largely by emissions from burning fossil fuels. A steadily increasing body of research has convinced policymakers and corporate interests that cleaner, renewable technologies must be brought into wide-scale use rapidly to lower emission output and arrest warming trends.

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon outlined the challenges in a recent Washington speech. He explained how the United States is working “to seize the opportunities this moment presents and meet its challenges head on.”

Technological advances have enabled U.S. companies to increase production in both oil and natural gas in recent years, increasing the nation’s energy independence and decreasing its need for oil production from other nations. Donilon said the U.S. polices favoring investment and entrepreneurship have supported “skilled service companies” in this positive trend.

“In 2005, 60 percent of U.S. oil was imported,” Donilon said. “Today the number is 40 percent and falling — a dramatic move towards fulfilling the president’s goal of cutting our oil imports in half by 2020.” Imports of natural gas are also declining as the United States has become the world’s leading natural gas producer.

This development is largely attributable to innovations that allow extraction of previously unrecoverable fuels from shale rock formations. Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting high-pressure water into cracks in underground formations, thus widening the cracks, allowing oil or gas to flow out.

The process, widely known as “fracking,” has encountered resistance, generated controversy and raised questions about potential environmental consequences. It has also created jobs and revitalized depressed areas where mines of another era were abandoned and are now being reopened with promises that new techniques will yield production.

Donilon said some industry predictions foresee these trends making the Americas the source of two-thirds of global energy supply increases over the next 20 years.

Greater energy independence brings economic strength, more jobs and less vulnerability to volatile swings in world energy markets. “America’s new energy posture allows us to engage from a position of greater strength,” Donilon said.

Those factors have enabled the United States to urge other nations to adopt oil sanctions against Iran while still influencing suppliers to keep oil flowing, the White House security advisor explained. The gambit has reduced the sale of Iranian oil by 1 million barrels a day with little pain to consuming nations.

“And the same dynamic was at work in Libya in 2011 and in Syria today,” he said.

Less dependence on foreign oil does not justify U.S. withdrawal from global affairs, Donilon said. Energy markets that are diverse, well supplied and stable will be an “enduring interest” for the United States. To that end, U.S. diplomats are engaged in international dialogues to avert potential energy conflict.

The United States is also providing other governments with regulatory and technical support to enable these nations to achieve greater energy security in their own right.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs Robert Cekuta described U.S. assistance to Burma’s oil and gas sector in a recent speech to U.S. energy professionals.

“We continue to work closely with the government to identify where we can be of assistance in helping Myanmar reach the ultimate goal of creating a transparent, well-managed energy sector that can attract the many responsible, highly regarded oil and gas companies,” Cekuta said.

Donilon said the United States is also providing technical advice to African countries working to develop recently discovered energy resources. The United States is working with partner countries in Europe, the Middle East and the Western Hemisphere to meet the shared challenges of bringing nonconventional energy sources online to meet the needs of the future.

Energy sources, supplies and availability no longer can be considered on their own, however. Scientific consensus on the warming climate has become an integral element in global energy chemistry. Lowering atmospheric emissions vented in the use of carbon-based fuels to slow the warming process is not just important, but “a national security challenge,” Donilon said.

“The national security impacts of climate change stem from the increasingly severe environmental impacts it is having on countries and people around the world,” Donilon said.

The security threats loom large, according to various analyses, with the potential to spark instability and conflict in the worst cases. In less violent but still urgent scenarios, governments and militaries may confront huge humanitarian disasters if sea levels rise to inundate occupied or agricultural areas.

But the United States has a new resource to apply to energy problems: Secretary of State John Kerry, who Donilon calls “one of the most experienced and impassioned climate diplomats America has ever had.”

Kerry now works to engage international collaboration to bring clean energy tech on line and reduce emissions. The Clean Energy Ministerial, a forum for international collaboration on clean energy involving the countries that produce 75 percent of global emissions, is already at work on the best methods for the transition to cleaner technologies.