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Oil exploration, production and transportation in the United States may suffer from endemic failures in technology, regulation and common sense, but that doesn’t appear to be standing in the way of the nation’s path towards becoming the world’s top producer of the oozy stuff. According to an International Energy Agency report, the US is on track to topple production by the notoriously oil-rich Saudi Arabia within five years, and to become a net oil exporter by 2030. In an trend that bodes incredibly poorly for the nation’s environmental health, many are championing the move away from foreign oil dependence and towards energy self-sufficiency.
It’s hard to argue that increases in oil production and exports won’t be good for political stability, US job growth and gasoline prices, but it’s also impossible not to consider at what price this will come to the environment. Proponents argue that a lower oil prices will create a decline in coal usage, and diminish the appeal of fracking — in fact, domestic coal usage is already hitting record lows, but due in large part to the uptick in natural gas production.
But while emissions from coal are violently hideous, and the environmental impact of fracking is unquestionably huge, emissions from oil-derived products aren’t exactly great either. And those endemic failures in the way in which oil companies from around the world go about sourcing oil in the US has already created multiple disasters, and consistent ongoing small-scale pipeline leaks. Each end of the spectrum is creating often untold, long-term effects on the US environment.
Beyond the US, regardless of what fossil fuels we use at home, our mining, drilling and fracking for natural resources will continue to have an impact around the globe. As the New York Times points out, “the United States’ reduced reliance on coal will just mean that coal moves to other places… [and] the new global energy market could make it harder to prevent dangerous levels of warming.”
But, as IEA points out in their report, US energy self-sufficiency will not come from increased oil production alone, rather, 55% will be a result of an uptick in home-drilled oil, and 45% from increases in energy efficiency. While oil production may be good for the job market, so too is the emerging green economy. Though not, at present, remotely on the same scale as the fossil fuel-based economy, green jobs are booming.
About 3 million green jobs currently exist in the US—through wind and solar power, energy efficiency project and the like—and the UN estimates that 15m and 60m additional jobs are likely in the next twenty years “if green policies are put in place to switch the high-carbon economy to low-carbon.” And with a greater focus in policy on this perhaps a sustainable energy self-sufficiency could be possible.