Is Smarter Fossil Fuel Extraction the Key to the Future of Clean Energy?

s Smarter Fossil Fuel Extraction the Key to the Future of Clean Energy?The story of the United States’ energy consumption is a tale of two cities.  Last year marked the first time in history that the nation added more new electricity projects using solar energy than natural gas.  At the same time, the US has produced more petroleum and natural gas than any other country for the past four years in a row.

There is no question that clean, renewable energy is the future.  But, at present, there remains a need for fossil fuels.  Most businesses and consumers rely upon fossil fuels on a daily basis for driving our cars and heating our homes, and for generating the electricity we use.  Much of our economic growth depends on fossil fuels as well.  Even if it were possible to transition fully to renewables today, there could be potentially negative implications.  As such, it is important that we continue to strike an appropriate balance between the two, working to build renewable infrastructure while stabilizing the transition by improving methods to extract fossil fuels.

In fact, improvements in fossil fuel extraction are being credited for the recent discovery of the largest oil and natural gas deposits ever assessed in the United States.  With 20 billion barrels of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the West Texas Wolfcamp shale formation, assessed by the USGS this past November, contains nearly three times the amount of petroleum products used by the entire nation in a year.  USGS Energy Resources Program coordinator Walter Guidroz cited emerging technology and practices as critical elements leading to the discovery.

“Changes in technology and industry practices can have significant effects on what resources are technically recoverable.  Even in areas that have produced billions of barrels of oil, there is still the potential to find billions more,” Guidroz stated.

Wolfcamp is a prime example.  The USGS believes that nearly all the resources at the shale formation will be recoverable thanks to currently available technology and industry practices, such as horizontal drilling.  This is particularly significant because Wolfcamp has already been drilled in the past using conventional methods.

The discovery of these deposits provides a number of significant economic benefits.  West Texas is expected to see an economic boom similar to the one seen in North Dakota following the discovery of the Bakken shale field in 2013.  The discovery may help prevent future oil price hikes and help the nation become more energy-independent.

Despite the global push towards a carbon-neutral economy, the fact remains that we will continue to be reliant upon oil and natural gas until alternatives become ubiquitous.  As such, technological advancements for extracting and using fossil fuels cannot be discounted.  We should strive to continue looking for more efficient and environmentally-friendly ways to leverage fossil fuels.  In so doing, the nation will have a stable and clear path as it transforms its energy policies moving forward.

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