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Directional drilling and fracking advances reinvigorated a floundering U.S. oil and gas industry and moved American energy onto the global stage. Experts say the world will need a lot more U.S. oil and gas for decades to come.
Speaking at Hart Energy’s 50th Anniversary Hall of Fame Awards on Dec. 5, Harold Hamm, North Dakota Bakken pioneer and founder and executive chairman of Continental Resources, called horizontal drilling the biggest turning point in U.S. energy over the past half-century.
“It’s horizontal drilling that really gave us the ability to access what I call ‘Generation 2’ rock,” Hamm said.
Chris Wright, chairman and CEO of oilfield services firm Liberty Energy, credited fracking for helping deliver a more affordable supply of natural gas and crude oil domestically and internationally.
He cited George Mitchell’s pioneering efforts in the Barnett Shale for unlocking commercial shale gas production.
“Certainly I, and probably most, had no idea how transformative this would be to the world,” Wright said.
Horizontal drilling and fracking fueled a massive increase in U.S. oil and gas production. Crude oil production alone nearly doubled from 2009 to 2015. But a ban on nearly all exports of U.S. crude volumes prevented American producers from accessing global markets.
The lifting of the decades-old crude oil export ban by the Obama administration in 2015—at the behest of Hamm and other energy industry heavyweights—allowed U.S. crude to flow around the globe.
“How can you go in 15 years from the biggest net importer to the biggest net exporter?” Wright asked. “It’s not just the economics, it’s the geopolitical transformation of power where United States’ position in the world has just risen dramatically.”
Meeting global demand
Despite the growth of renewable energy resources, the world will continue to need oil and gas from the U.S. for many years—and probably many decades—to come, Hamm said.
“We need to make sure that we’ve got the fuel for the future, and we do have it,” Hamm said. “We think we can see 50 years of oil usage ahead of us in the foreseeable future, and over 50 to 100 years of natural gas.”
While demand for American oil and gas will continue to rise in the near future, Hamm admitted that U.S. E&Ps also have to do their part in cleaning up and lowering their own emissions.
“A lot of us are involved in different things to do that—carbon capture and underground sequestration certainly can be our forte,” Hamm said. “We’re good at all those things whether it be pipelining, handling pressure, working with underground reservoirs, all that stuff.”
Wright, who worked in the nuclear and solar energy industries before entering the oil and gas space, is also on board with the energy transition.
But he takes umbrage with the moniker “energy transition” itself.
“Where we are today, we can’t even see the start of an energy transition,” Wright said. “A transition implies something is replacing something—we can’t see that today.”
Based on stated policies by nations around the world, the International Energy Agency estimates global demand for coal, oil and natural gas could peak before 2030.
Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act are also fueling new domestic renewables investment, including in wind, solar and clean hydrogen.
At the same time, industry experts and analysts also see strong demand for fossil fuels like natural gas and LNG continuing into the 2040s and 2050s.
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