Saturday on “Up with Chris Hayes,” host Chris Hayes discussed the ways a looming fossil fuel boom could change U.S. society, as well as the impact it could have on our environment and standing in the world. Is the promise of so-called “energy independence” worth the risk of turning our nation into an oil-rich oligarchy, he asked, of becoming a so-called “Saudi America”?
Hayes began the segment by discussing how hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota’s Bakken formation, “a subterranean rock formation that contains a thin, and until recently, more or less inaccessible, sea of oil within relatively hard rocks.” A sea of oil that, once extracted, allegedly could rival the entire oil output of Iraq and Kuwait combined.
Because of the number of jobs produced by the process of extracting oil from the formation, the region’s economy is booming. While unemployment levels are considered to be getting better nationally at 7.7 percent, North Dakota’s rate is a booming 3.1 percent.
The U.S. is benefitting nationally from the amount of oil coming from domestic sources, as well.
Hayes said, “Compare the growth in crude-oil supply among a number of non-OPEC countries, and what you see is the U.S. obliterating the rest of the world. Employment in oil and gas extraction has surged to the highest level since 1992 — though we should note they still provide a tiny, tiny sliver of the country’s jobs, just under 200,000. Our net oil imports are cratering. And now a number of analysts are predicting that in the near future, the U.S. will be producing more oil than any other country in the world,” making the U.S. independent of foreign oil by 2020, and an exporter of oil by 2030.
“In energy circles, you’re beginning to hear the phrase ‘Saudi America’ used to refer to this future fossil fuel juggernaut,” he continued. “And you might look over all this and say: fantastic! America is finally within sight of that much mythologized, long promised destination: energy independence. Not only will we be able to cheaply supply our own power grid, vehicles and army, we’ll actually be able to make money exporting our resources all over the world, reversing the long trend towards ever-widening trade imbalances.”
These gains could come at a steep price, however. Climatologists warn that the earth is hurtling toward a “dystopic future,” said Hayes, “of possible 4-degrees Celsius global temperature rise, droughts, floods, storms, disaster, disease, death, crop failure, and on and on.”
There are dangers to our society beyond the depredations of climate disruption, that as our economy begins to mirror Saudi Arabia’s, so might our political landscape.
“Economists have long talked about the resource curse,” he said, “the fact that countries with massive, lucrative natural resource bounties tend to be developmental and governance basket cases, ruled over by a feckless, ruthless, entrenched set of extractive oligarchs. And if you think that sounds foreign, go take a look at the local politics in places like West Texas and West Virginia.”
He concluded, “The promise of ‘energy independence’ is a kind of liberation, but it is a false promise: if history or a look across the globe tells us anything it’s that the extremely lucrative industry of extracting and selling carbon fuel offers all of the actual freedom of the devil’s handshake.”
Watch the video, embedded via MSNBC, below: