While the validity of the concept of “peak oil”—meaning the moment when we’ve produced or consumed more oil than remains underground—is still hotly contested, using numbers available to us today we know that we have enough oil to last 40 years with the present rate of consumption. However, this—of course—does not account for oil that is not currently being produced. In 2008 both bans on offshore drilling and development of “oil shale” were repealed opening up areas for drilling and development thereby increasing how long the industrialized world can drink its fill of petroleum. Still in a New York Times article from around the time the bans were repealed wonders if oil shale is not the “dirtiest fuel on the planet.”
This week, the House is planning to vote on the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act, which is a piece of controversial legislation that makes it very easy for public lands to be opened for oil development. One of the most troubling provisions in the new law, as pointed out by ThinkProgress.org, is that if a citizen wanted to petition the government to protect some piece of public land from oil development, he or she would have to pay a fee of $5000.
For many, the idea of the United States going from oil importer to exporter seems like a slam dunk decision. However, because development of these resources requires hydraulic fracturing—a process also used for natural gas mining which breaks up the layers of shale rock using pressurized chemicals—the environmental consequences are, literally, earth-shattering. In 2011 there were 109 earthquakes in a part of Ohio that never recorded an earthquake before fracking operations began.
Still, the immediate economic benefits of developing these energy resources are undeniable, often drowning out those who’d beg for caution.