Depending on how you date it, we are now in the fourth year of the country’s so-called energy revolution (2008 was the first year the New York Times wrote about fracking in the Marcellus shale).
The gains are real: natural gas prices have plummeted, jobs have been added, and local tax revenues have gone up.
But despite the boom, we are still not operating at full productive capacity:
The technology and economic conditions still do not exist to make it profitable to do so.
For instance: In 2010, the GAO came out with a report suggesting there were a mind-boggling 3 trillion barrels of oil deposits sitting under the Green River Formation in the Rockies.
According to the RAND Corp., GAO said, only about half of that may be recoverable, depending on technological and market forces.
Still, extracting half the Green River’s deposits would be “about equal to the entire world’s proven oil reserves,” according to RAND.
But David Howard, an analyst with energy research experts ITG, says it would almost make more economic sense to drill on Mars than in Wyoming given current market forces.
The reason: It is, at the moment, prohibitively expensive to extract shale oil and render it refinable.
“[Oil shale] is the highest supply cost crude on the planet,” Howard told us via email, “and in order for it to become commercial costs would have to drastically fall (unlikely if you consider the oil sands example [oil sand hydrocarbons remain cheaper to access —ed.]) or the world would have to exhaust all the cheaper options (unlikely to be soon if you consider the shale oil revolution could be exported internationally).
Also a quick clarification: there is in fact a difference between oil shale and shale oil. The former is the stuff under Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. The latter is what’s being tapped now in North Dakota and Texas.
The energy revolution isn’t necessarily losing any momentum.
But any re-acceleration remains far ahead.