En­ergy boom: Good for U.S., but is­sues re­main

Houston Chronicle - - OUTLOOK - By Steve A. Ye­tiv Ye­tiv is a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Old Do­min­ion Univer­sity, Nor­folk, Va.

Amer­ica is ap­proach­ing the 10th an­niver­sary of the U.S. en­ergy boom, which has trans­formed global en­ergy and pol­i­tics. The com­bined tech­nolo­gies of frack­ing and hor­i­zon­tal drilling have made it the world’s top pro­ducer of oil and nat­u­ral gas, and the boom has cut for­eign oil im­ports by more than half.

But what does the boom mean for U.S. se­cu­rity and power? That ques­tion is vi­tal given pos­si­ble Amer­i­can de­cline, ris­ing chal­lengers like China, cli­mate change and a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that is un­ex­cited about a green fu­ture.

The boom has in­creased U.S. power in sev­eral ways.

First, it has helped bol­ster Amer­ica’s econ­omy by boost­ing GDP, shoring up the na­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing base, gen­er­at­ing jobs and draw­ing for­eign in­vest­ment. The boom has also helped lower oil and nat­u­ral gas prices. That has mod­er­ated in­fla­tion, de­creased the ur­gency of in­ter­est rates hikes by the Fed­eral Re­serve and given cit­i­zens more spend­ing money.

Sec­ond, lower oil prices have also hurt the na­tional bud­gets of up­start, en­er­gyrich coun­tries such as Rus­sia. That’s good be­cause Rus­sia is Ex­hibit A for global mis­chief. Moscow has reg­u­larly ma­nip­u­lated en­ergy ex­ports to co­erce Euro­pean coun­tries. Ris­ing Amer­i­can nat­u­ral gas ex­ports to Europe may help check such co­er­cion. Qatar, the world’s top liq­uid nat­u­ral gas pro­ducer, has also di­verted ex­ports to Amer­ica to global mar­kets, in­clud­ing Europe.

Third, over the past decade, the boom has en­hanced Amer­ica’s im­age as an in­no­va­tive, can-do coun­try. Such per­cep­tions of power mat­ter in world af­fairs, es­pe­cially given talk of Amer­i­can de­cline.

Fourth, the boom gives Amer­ica home­grown en­ergy in the event of a ma­jor global cri­sis that dis­rupts for­eign oil de­liv­er­ies. Com­pare that to China which is scram­bling for re­sources from the South China Sea to Africa. That gives Amer­ica an un­der­es­ti­mated edge over China in the hard­scrab­ble game of global in­flu­ence.

Fifth, other coun­tries want Amer­i­can en­ergy tech­nol­ogy, which can yield Wash­ing­ton lever­age. For ex­am­ple, Wash­ing­ton could help ar­range for China to get such tech­nol­ogy to ex­ploit its gi­gan­tic shale gas re­serves in ex­change for en­hanced Chi­nese co­op­er­a­tion on North Korea or other is­sues. Amer­ica’s lead­er­ship needs to learn how to use en­ergy to gen­er­ate global co­op­er­a­tion.

Yet, while the U.S. boom has cer­tain ben­e­fits, they are of­ten ex­ag­ger­ated. For ex­am­ple, de­spite Pres­i­dent Trump’s clash with Iran, he still wants to re­duce the U.S. role in the Mid­dle East, be­liev­ing like many oth­ers that the boom can help free Wash­ing­ton of its polic­ing role in the Per­sian Gulf. The boom makes that more likely, but even if Amer­ica im­ported no oil, Per­sian Gulf oil dis­rup­tions would still spook global oil mar­kets, push­ing up oil prices for all Amer­i­cans. And, his­tor­i­cally, the weaker Amer­ica is in the Per­sian Gulf, the higher the chance of an oil price spike.

But far more im­por­tant, be­yond the en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards of frack­ing, the boom is dis­tract­ing Amer­ica from go­ing green — from se­ri­ously de­vel­op­ing al­ter­na­tives to oil and coal. Sure, cheap nat­u­ral gas is off­set­ting dirt­ier coal use, which is im­por­tant, but the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pears to be­lieve that fos­sil fu­els are the best en­ergy path to na­tional power, fail­ing to un­der­stand how go­ing green is even more cru­cial to long-term se­cu­rity than pro­duc­ing more fos­sil fu­els. Why so? Go­ing green would help mit­i­gate cli­mate change, which most schol­ars see as one of the big­gest global threats. De­creas­ing the use of oil would also make Wash­ing­ton less likely to go to war in the Mid­dle East; would help stem oil-fund­ing for ter­ror­ist groups; and would make us less vul­ner­a­ble to oil price spikes be­cause we would be us­ing less oil in the first place. Such spikes have been as­so­ci­ated with most re­ces­sions in the past 45 years.

Go­ing green would also help the United States do some­thing Trump should like: ex­ploit the multi-tril­lion dol­lar clean en­ergy econ­omy of the 21st cen­tury. Just in the past year, nu­mer­ous coun­tries in­clud­ing France, Bri­tain, China and even oil-rich Nor­way have said that they aim to elim­i­nate the gas-pow­ered en­gine in the com­ing decades. China is now lead­ing the world in the de­vel­op­ment of al­ter­na­tive en­er­gies and even elec­tric ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy. Does the United States want to yield this gi­gan­tic mar­ket to Bei­jing, with all of the spin-off tech­no­log­i­cal ben­e­fits and jobs? It’s not too late to change course.

The en­ergy boom has boosted U.S. global power and ser­viced global en­ergy de­mand, which is im­por­tant be­cause the world will re­main de­pen­dent on fos­sil fu­els for a long time. But Amer­ica also needs to pre­pare for a greener fu­ture as well.

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