Marcellus shale gas-drilling site in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania
Marcellus shale gas-drilling site in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania
Nikolaus Piper

-Analysis-

NEW YORK - Not long ago, China replaced the United States as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet. And now the International Energy Agency (IEA) is predicting two things: the first is that the U.S. will be the world’s biggest oil producer in the next 10 years. The second is that from 2030 on, America will be exporting more oil than it imports. Suddenly, the global energy outlook as we have known it for decades has been turned on its head.

Not everything about the latest round of predictions will come true. Experts can and do make mistakes, particularly when dealing with the future. But there is no doubt they are right about the trend, signs of which can already be observed.

The U.S. is undergoing a singular change as far as energy is concerned. And it is based not on wind or solar energy, but on fossil fuels – an oil and gas boom that hasn’t been seen for 100 years. This year alone, the country imported 11% less crude than it did during the same period in 2011. The U.S. is already the world’s biggest producer of natural gas, and surplus is becoming a problem. Prices are sinking, and some companies are fighting to survive. Overnight, North Dakota has become an oil sheikdom.

Shifting geopolitical balances

The economic, political and geopolitical consequences of this are far-reaching. For example, in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and other oil nations will become less important to the U.S. Even now, only 20% of the country’s oil imports come from the region, in contrast to China, which depends on the Middle East for 50% of its energy supplies. This is not to say that militarily the States will withdraw completely from the region. An Iranian nuclear bomb would be just as dangerous even if there were no oil. In the interests of international stability, the U.S. fleet is going to have to see to it that the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf stays open.

What is different, however, is that there is no longer a direct connection between America’s voracious appetite for energy and its military commitment in the region. Seen purely from the standpoint of economic interests, a stable Middle East is now more important for Asia than it is for the United States. This means that OPEC, the cartel of oil exporters, will still have clout-- but no longer in Washington.

These new realities mean that the United States, with its rich, newfound lodes, is unlikely to become easier to deal with as a partner. President Barack Obama cannot get relevant climate legislation to pass through the Republican-led House of Representatives, and now he can no longer use energy security as leverage. So, as regards energy and climate policy, Europeans should not expect too much from him.

Clean fuel, less carbon emission

We tend to forget that American greenhouse gases are already decreasing, and this is not due only to the weak economy. Stricter standards for cars are beginning to make a difference, and renewable energy sources also play a role, albeit a small one. The decrease is mainly due to the replacement of coal by cheap natural gas in electrical power plants. Of the fossil fuels, gas is the “cleanest,” emitting the least carbon dioxide.

It is difficult to calculate the risks of this new development. The additional gas comes from so-called unconventional reserves stored in layers of shale, which can be accessed using water, sand and chemicals through use of the controversial method known as fracking. There have been anti-fracking protests, particularly in Pennsylvania and New York, and nearly all the protesters voted for Obama. That does not make the president’s position any easier. But even in the best of cases, environmental protest will only serve to make the new energy reality more efficient. It will not change the boom itself. The advantages for the nation are too big for that.

The consequences of America’s change in energy outlook will also be felt on this side of the Atlantic. Theoretically, Europe could profit from cheap American natural gas, but there is not enough of the necessary infrastructure-- liquefaction facilities, fluid-gas tankers -- to do so. Therefore the boom will initially, at least, mean a classic competitive disadvantage for Europe, particularly for Germany as an exporting nation. In the U.S., the cost of energy for industry will sink, and in Germany the cost will rise. A partner becomes a new competitor.

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Ideas

How Facebook Knowingly Undermines The World's Largest Democracy

Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang says that the tech giant knowingly facilitates undermining democracy in India. Fair voting cannot be guaranteed if real people's voices are drowned out by armies of fake online commentators.

The Tek Fog app is allegedly used by online operatives to hijack social media

Sophie Zhang

-OpEd-

NEW DELHI — Earlier this month, The Wire published an exposé on Tek Fog, an app allegedly used by India's ruling, right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to make social engineering easier. The app is allegedly used by online operatives to hijack social media and amplify right-wing propaganda in the country.

The investigation immediately grabbed the attention of the Indian public. For the first time, everyday Indians were given insight into the inner workings of a major political party's Information Technology Cell (IT cell). Indians were forced to confront the possibility that their everyday reality was shaped not by the Indian public but the whims of shadowy political operatives.

They also discovered that their own ruling party would seek to phish their phones with spyware for the purpose of sending party-line propaganda impersonating them to friends and family. Such serious allegations more closely resemble an authoritarian dictatorship like the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and their hired online commentators, the 50 Cent Army (五毛党), than the world’s largest democracy.

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