In his campaign speeches yesterday, Mitt Romney was promising that the new technology of “horizontal drilling” would open up new reserves of oil and gas, and allow the US to become energy independent.
Like most Romney “facts,” it isn’t true in any meaningful sense of ‘truth’.
The fact is that drilling sideways rather than straight up and down has been going on since the 1920s, when it was the subject of lawsuits as drillers were accused of stealing oil from other people’s land. Horizontal drilling was also at the center of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Iraq was upset that the Kuwaiti wells were taking oil from their land.
There have been recent developments that have improved this technology — notably, “fracking,” which has made gas reserves available (but not without environmental costs). But these are incremental improvements in technology rather than radical technologies that will solve US energy problems at a stroke. As with every extractive industry, the oil and gas industry are forced to innovate just to maintain current production. The resources that are easy to reach are extracted first, what’s left is anything but easy.
As Obama pointed out, the US has 2% of proven oil reserves but consumes 20% of global production. The idea that the US can become energy independent, without conservation and a major expansion in renewables, is a fantasy and a lie.