The United States is on the verge of an industrial renaissance, according to energy experts enthusiastic about technological advances surrounding the “fracking” of shale gas and the processing of “tight oil.” America is sitting on a century-worth of natural gas, and the Western hemisphere boasts five times the reserves in unconventional oil as the Middle East claims in the conventional category. Suddenly, all our fears of resource wars with China and never-ending quagmires in Southwest Asia seem to melt away, heralding with great certainty another American century based on the promise of energy independence. As “deus ex machina” moments go, this one arrives just in time for a nation magnificently down on its luck and itself.
Already President Barack Obama has essentially dropped all references to climate change and global warming, with his much-touted “green” jobs initiative giving way to the reality that it is the unconventional oil and gas sectors that are booming. And if he holds on to the White House next year, expect Obama to quietly approve the much-contested Keystone XL pipeline deal -- which he just postponed -- that will transport Canadian tar-sand oil into the U.S.
The triumphant energy-independence narrative surrounding these new sources of hydrocarbons, however, is a case of clutching at straws in hard economic times. Yes, the energy bonanza is real, even as we are still figuring out the environmental risks. But these developments hardly place America in the 21st-century driver’s seat, much less allow us to continue lording it over rising China -- another strategic theme based on American exceptionalism that Obama has recently adopted.