US Tips Global Power Scales with Fracking

From Der Spiegel

Williston, North Dakota, is a bleak little city in the vast American prairie. It’s dusty in the summer and frigid in the winter. Moose hunting is one of the few sources of entertainment. But despite its drawbacks, Williston has seen its population more than double within a short period of time.

The city is so overcrowded that new arrivals often have no place to stay but in their motor homes, which, at monthly parking fees of $1,200 (€880), isn’t exactly inexpensive. And more people continue to arrive in this nondescript little town.

The reason for the influx is simple: Geologists have discovered a layer of shale saturated with natural gas and oil deep beneath the city. The Bakken formation, spanning thousands of square kilometers, has become synonymous with an American economic miracle that the country hasn’t experienced since the oil rush almost 100 years ago.

North Dakota now has virtual full employment, and the state budget showed an estimated surplus of $1.6 billion in 2012. Truck drivers in the state make $100,000 a year, while the strippers being brought in from Las Vegas rake in more than $1,000 a night. President Barack Obama calls the discovery of Bakken and similar shale gas formations in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Utah a “stroke of luck,” saying: “We have a hundred years’ worth of energy right beneath our feet.”

A Vital Nerve

The future of the American energy supply was looking grim until recently. With its own resources waning, the United States was dependent on Arab oil sheiks and erratic dictators. Rising energy costs were hitting a vital nerve in the country’s industrial sector.

But the situation has fundamentally changed since American drilling experts began using a method called “fracking,” with which oil and gas molecules can be extracted from dense shale rock formations. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the United States will replace Russia as the world’s largest producer of natural gas in only two years. The Americans could also become the world’s top petroleum producers by 2017.

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