If you’re old enough to remember block-long lines at gas stations during the 1970s energy crisis, you witnessed the widespread frustration and a sense of helplessness that swept across the country.
Ever since then, politicians have called for taking steps to reduce our growing addiction to foreign oil, even though imports simply continued to climb over the next quarter century. Until recently, the notion of energy independence seemed like a pipe dream. But these days energy advocates are touting a brighter future for our country because technological innovation has led to significant discoveries of oil and natural gas.
A few weeks ago, officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21stCentury Energy were in Billings, sharing the idea that the United States is making real progress in reducing oil imports from unfriendly or unstable areas of the world.
Not surprisingly, they welcome continued development in the Bakken field of North Dakota and Montana, as well as other unconventional oil and gas plays throughout the country. The boom in producing oil and gas from tight shale formations is seen as a positive trend, but they're also trying to convince the federal government to open public lands to more oil and gas development.
They also argue that any “common sense” energy strategy for the United States must include the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude from the Canadian oil sands to refineries in the Gulf Coast. The pipeline would extend through Eastern Montana, and would carry some Bakken crude.
Although environmentalists have expressed grave concerns about the pipeline, many Montanans support it. And recent news stories have questioned the long-term economic viability of the Canadian tar sands because of the recent surge in oil production within the United States. Just ask any college freshman who has taken economics. Prices usually fall when supply increases.
Matt Koch, vice president for oil sands and arctic issues at the institute, made a case for building the pipeline. Much of the money that the United States sends to Canada to purchase crude oil flows back to the U.S. through increased trade as Canadians buy cars, furniture and other U.S.-produced goods.
How important will unconventional energy be to the nation’s future?
A study released in late October says unconventional oil and gas reserves will create 1.3 million new jobs, generate billions of dollars in tax revenue for local, state and federal governments and significantly reduce oil imports over the next eight years.
The study was released recently by IHS Inc., a consulting firm that does work for many clients in the energy industry. It has received notice in the business press and from energy industry advocates, who say that the oil and gas industry will play a key role in lifting the economy out of this persistent rut of sluggish growth.
Thanks to technology and innovation, the nation’s energy future seems to be a little brighter. And you'll still be able to tell your grandchildren what it was like coping with gas lines.