It's been a while since anyone conceived of the US as one of the fossil fueliest places in the world. We were once, sure. But those were our Wild West days—a time of milkshake-drinking robber barons, Beverly Hillbillies, and rusty pumps manned by blister-covered hands. But that era's long gone, right?
No, no. In fact, the US just overtook Russia as the largest non-OPEC liquid fuel producer in the world last month. And by the end of the decade, it may again be the largest flat-out oil producer in the world. The monthly Oil Market Report from the International Energy Agency details why that the largest pump-filler might not be Saudi Arabia for long. For years now, that petrol-pumping giant and oil-and-gas-loaded Russia have been the world's top two fossil fuel spigots.
But, as Businessweek and the IEA predicted earlier this year, the US may very well be producing more stuff for us to burn and turn into plastics than anywhere else by the end of this year. As the ascendent liquid fuel champion, the US is producing more oil, more liquid natural gas (LNG), and more biofuel than any other place on the planet besides, maybe, Saudi Arabia.
What's allowed the US to charge back into the lead? Fracking, mostly. Both oil and LNG production have each surged thanks to fracking and the plunging of drills into new pristine lands across the nation. The offshore expansion hasn't hurt either, BP whoopsie be damned.
According to The Moscow Times, "Russia currently produces more liquid oil and gas, pumping out 10.81 million barrels per day versus America's 10.28 million [barrels per day] this quarter." Meanwhile, Reuters reports that when US production of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel are taken into account, the U.S. total is estimated to reach 11.2 million bpd this quarter. Contrast that to Saudi Arabia's reported output of 10.2 million bpd in August. That's all black gold, though, mind you.
And it turns out that the final distance was made up from biofuels—Russia, which has produced more fossil fuels than the US for a decade now, doesn't do ethanol or biodiesel, and we sure as hell do. The Oil Market Report notes that US biofuel production increased by 9 percent between January and August, reaching more than 935,000 bpd, while Russia barely put out anything.
The Moscow Times made sure to soothe Russia's ego, though, writing, "without biofuels in the equation, Russia would still be the leading liquid fuel producer outside of OPEC."
Interestingly, ethanol production has been largely flat for years now. And biodiesel production is growing exponentially, but the sector is still too small to account for much more than a drop in the bucket. So the major story here is fracking—natural gas and oil production are through the roof right now, in a way few thought would be possible even a couple of years ago.
Of course, the biggest result of this boom has been political chest-thumping about the decline of America's reliance on foreign oil, and calls to keep the oil jobs coming. The US is a petro-state again, and it's loving every minute of it.
But this liquid fuel bath probably has larger implications for the climate than anything else—the more of this stuff we burn, the less of a chance we have at not turning the planet into an arid, extreme weather-blasted hellhole a few decades down the line. Vehicle emissions are second only to power plant emissions as contributors to global warming. And these rising production levels are a potent reminder that our thirst for fossil fuel—and even for fossil fuel substitutes—is only growing, at precisely the moment when we need it to be tapering off.
The future, for the time being, looks like it's going to be a resource extractive, fracked, car-clogged nightmare. And America's fossil fuel sector—an industry that boasts the same dirty fundamentals as it did 50 years ago—will be putting the gas in its tank.