As America battles the prospect of a 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline constructed in the heartland of the nation that would transport more than 800,000 of oil through the U.S. every day, the oil-fracking movement is gaining even more traction with a new report indicating the nation has more oil than experts thought.
A report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) this week indicates the U.S. enough oil to account for a third of the world’s new supply within only the next five years, taking the U.S. from big oil importer to the next big oil exporter.
In 2012, the U.S. was producing 7 million barrels per day. The IEA estimates that oil production will increase that daily allotment by 3.9 million barrels by 2018.
“North America has set off a supply shock that is sending ripples throughout the world,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a release. “The good news is that this is helping to ease a market that was relatively thin for several years. The technology that unlocked the bonanza in places like North Dakota can and will be applied elsewhere, potentially leading to a broad reassessment of reserves.”
The bonanza van der Hoeven refers to comes from hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, a method of extracting oil (or natural gas) by injecting a combination of water, silica sand and undisclosed chemicals deep into the ground. And while van der Hoeven claims the process “will” be applied elsewhere, Americans are fighting to protect their land from the impacts of the industry — even in the face of corporate-funded campaigns promoting the boom.
In 2012, the largest U.S. oil company, Exxon Mobil Corp., threw $2.1 million into its pro-fracking campaign in New York State alone, according to a state ethics board. The state is in the midst of a common dispute between local municipalities and the state over whether localized moratoriums infringe on the state’s ability to manage resources.
“We felt it was important to support the campaign that they were putting forward and the public-education initiatives that we wanted to support,” Exxon spokesperson Alan Jeffers said.
In March, the company said it would continue its “record” capital spending levels of $37 billion a year through 2016. Last year, the company had estimated it would only spend $33 billion each year through 2015.
Exxon commercials: It’s all good
With the promise of more oil comes the promise of more money for the U.S. oil industry, and companies invested in the cause are wasting no time in the fight to persuade Americans that fracking — everywhere — is good for the country.
According to a prominent Exxon Mobil television advertisement, the role of fracking in the nation’s future is “critical,” claiming the process of injecting a cocktail of water and chemicals deep under the earth’s surface leaves little room for anything to go wrong.
“When we design any well, the groundwater is protected by multiple layers of steel and cement,” Exxon Mobil Geologist Erik Oswald said in a recent commercial. “Most wells are over a mile and a half deep, so there’s a tremendous amount of protective rock between the fracking operation and the groundwater.”
Another Exxon commercial paints the picture for fracking as one that would lead the nation to energy independence and economic prosperity, using images of children in American yellow school buses to sell the nation that the fracking move sweeping the country is one rooted in the motivation of a prosperous future.
“America is facing some tough challenges right now. Two of the most important are energy security and economic growth,” Exxon Engineer Artis Brown said. “North America actually has one of the largest oil reserves in the world. A large part of that is oil sands. This resource has the ability to create hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
The commercials are an extension of the oil industry’s massive public relations campaign. In 2011, an environmental news site, Desmogblog.com, captured audio of oil company personnel at an industry conference telling a crowd that Pennsylvania’s Range Resources hired retired military psychological warfare experts to help with on-the-ground public relations campaigns.
“Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that,” Range Resources Communications Director Matt Pitzarella told the crowd. “But very much having that understanding of PSYOP’s in the Army and in the Middle East applies very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has also been influential, allowing those in the oil industry to have a say in legislation intended to calm the nerves of those wary about the impacts of fracking. The Fracking Chemical Usage Disclosure Act is painted as legislation that mandates oil companies to disclose chemicals used — but there’s one major loophole. The bill allows companies to exempt any chemical they deem to be a “trade secret.”
Real concerns for real people
While the industry continues to move ahead with a mantra that promotes safety and freedom, Americans living with the impacts of fracking — and frac sand mining — are voicing real concerns. The industry brings heavy truck traffic, a lack of research regarding impact on drinking and ground water and, for those living near operations, a decrease in home values.
For those living near a recent fracking well meltdown in Pennsylvania, which sent 9,000 gallons of “frack fluid” onto a rural farm site, Exxon Mobil’s promise of protection through “multiple layers of steel and cement” doesn’t mean much.
In Colorado, more than 1,000 spills have been reported to Colorado regulators, including more than 5 million gallons of “frack liquid” spills.
In response to these concerns, more than 270 local municipalities have voiced their opposition to fracking, through declarations of solidarity against fracking — and actual bans.
The resistance has caused the oil industry to pay more to bulldoze through their efforts, but it hasn’t halted America’s fracking boom.
“The industry has expanded into a lot of places where they weren’t before,” Natural Resources Defense Council’s Senior Analyst Amy Mall told Mint Press News in a March interview. “A lot more communities have been impacted in the last five years or so because exploration of the shale oil and gas formations. There were a lot of communities that were not the target of that industry that are now.”
If everything follows in line with the IEA report, the next five years will follow that trend. Yet activists dedicated to the cause claim they won’t be taken down easily, which could create a very interesting next half decade in communities throughout the nation.