By Andreas Kuersten
Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
Five years ago, if one were to assert that by 2014 the United States would become the world’s top oil producer, the public would have chuckled. At that point, America trailed behind both Saudi Arabia and Russia in terms of oil production, while Barack Obama and Mitt Romney intensely debated how to stimulate U.S. energy production in the lead up to their 2012 bids for the White House. Obama emphasized renewable sources and pushed for increased investment to bolster large-scale distribution from these systems. Romney, on the other hand, advocated for the Keystone XL pipeline project and urged the elimination of government regulations that he believed were stifling fossil fuel extraction.
Both candidates were off the mark. In actuality, advances in oil and natural gas drilling and production — specifically, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — had already initiated the United States’ launch into the pole position in world oil production. The advances in drilling and production drastically increased recoverable reserves and spurred new, large-scale extraction activity. Within only a few years of the Obama-Romney debates, America landed on a mound of resources and production capabilities that positioned the country to be energy independent.
But the shale oil boom delivered much more than just energy security — it also provided the United States with a powerful new move in the dance that is international relations.
America’s oil glut came at an opportune time for its foreign policy needs. Oil revenue-dependent Russia had just turned European security on its head by annexing Crimea and instigating a civil war in Ukraine. Iran was also showing interest in negotiating the terms of its nuclear program. The United States needed an effective, non-violent way to respond to Russian aggression, increase Iran’s desire for a deal, and mitigate the financial capabilities of both countries to pursue foreign policies counter to American interests.
Picture: Don macedone (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons