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The People's Daily, China

Can the US Cut Its
Umbilical Cord to Oil?

By Yang Ziyan

As the world studied how to follow in the footsteps of the U.S. shale gas revolution, certain others adopted a responsible attitude and voiced a different opinion: The shale gas industry might be fool's gold.

Translated By Nathan Hsu

17 January 2013

Edited by Gillian Palmer

China - The People's Daily - Original Article (Chinese)

The creation and debunking of the shale gas "myth" have both been quick to arrive. The spread of information means that little time elapses between receiving false news and the truth, despite the efforts of some to obstruct the latter.

The U.S. National Intelligence Council's publication, "Global Trends 2030: Alternate Worlds," showed that Americans are brimming with confidence that the U.S. will cut its umbilical cord to the world of oil.

As the entire world studied how to follow in the footsteps of the U.S. shale gas revolution, certain others adopted a responsible attitude and voiced a different opinion: The shale gas industry might be fool's gold.

The Americans who started the myth say that with shale gas the U.S. will possess an abundance of natural gas not only capable of meeting domestic demand, but which will also allow it to become an energy exporter in the next few decades.

The International Energy Agency report is a powerful brace for the confidence of Americans. It has made them feel that they are swimming in oil. The report estimated that by 2017 the U.S. will surpass Saudi Arabia to become the world's top oil producer. In 2015, the U.S. is to become the largest producer of natural gas.

Australia, Canada, Poland, Israel and others all fall within America's camp of shale gas promotion. Strategic analysts have reason to believe that the U.S. will become an energy-producing powerhouse, will reduce its reliance on energy from the Middle East, and will be able to counteract Russia's influence on Central and Eastern Europe. Australia and Canada can export oil and gas to East Asia, strengthening alliances with the U.S.

Leading the charge for this vision of the future was a journalist embedded with the army in Iraq, Robert Kaplan. Take note: This is only a journalist, lauded solely because his theory was to the benefit of the government.

Those who debunked this "myth" believe, based on their backgrounds and expertise, that Kaplan "wove an optimistic story for the naive."*

The article in "Nature" magazine, authored by scientists in the U.K., scoffed at the idea that the energy crisis can be dodged through the use of shale gas, as shale gas well output fell 60 to 90 percent in its first year of operation.

U.S. financial analysts believe from their assessment of the oil business that the world's oil supply has not increased since 2005. This is inconsistent with data provided by other institutions showing that oil output has gone up.

Despite the extremely optimistic position that the U.S. oil industry has adopted in public, it "privately remains skeptical toward shale gas."*

The media, for its part, has a choice. Between optimism and rationality, they prefer to plait together an optimistic tale while responding to voices of reason with a kind of selective deafness.

This selective deafness is a boon for proponents of shale. The U.S. hopes to pull itself out of the ever-deepening morass in the Middle East, and Europe is looking to free itself from Russian control. A shale gas revolution would cause the system of oil price quotes to collapse; OPEC would lose control over prices, and the economies of petroleum-exporting countries would suffer heavily.

Nonetheless, this is but a U.S.-centric, imperfect and optimistic analysis. Arrogant Americans never give a thought to the new relationships between various forces and the re-balancing of power under a multipolar order. Whatever they may believe, seeking to sever the umbilical cord to the world of oil solely through reliance on unreliable shale gas won't prove easy.

* Editor’s Note: These quotations, while accurately translated, could not be verified.



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