US world's top oil producer in 10 years?

Goodbye Saudi Arabia and Russia? The US could be self-sufficient in oil within 10 years, claims the International Energy Agency.

The US could even inherit the title of World's Biggest Oil Producer by 2017, radically re-scrambling the world's geopolitics - and US productivity and energy security. But the environmental damage could be huge.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%

New golden age of US oil?

A US oil revolution would be largely led by the practice of hydraulic fracking. That is, blasting apart rock with chemicals, sand and water. However there's huge concern about the risk of stressing the water supply, not to mention lowering air quality. It could also be a big about-turn on America's (already chequered) environmental credentials.

Long-term, cheaper oil/shale gas supply is likely to make US fuel and energy bills cheaper. It would also makes the US production base vastly more effective and competitive. A real game changer.

But cheaper energy would make it harder for people to take seriously consumption levels and the impact on the environment. Some states like Vermont in the US have even banned fracking (along with France and Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia region).

Burn, baby, burn

Other awkward facts lie about: it's thought tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals - lead, mercury, uranium and other compounds, some carcinogenic - can be used for each "frack". The practice is thought to have caused earthquakes; there are also worries about how the practice affects cattle and the food chain. Even milk and wine production.

However, on the plus side, shale gas extraction technology is relatively immature. It could improve over time, requiring less brute force with considerably more accuracy bought to the process. "In a few years the techniques used today for fracking will be viewed as primitive," Reuters quotes Nansen Saleri, a former Saudi Aramco executive.

Fracking technology though is a world away from the energy security worries that have dogged the US since the 1970s. Fracking, too, could redefine US military operations in future. But Hurricane Sandy has revived anxiety too about climate change. President Obama has some tricky decisions to make.
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