With the Middle East in turmoil (and Iraq on the verge of imploding) and tensions high on the Russia-Ukraine border, you'd think oil prices would be shooting up; instead, they're falling, with Brent crude at a 13-month low and West Texas Intermediate below $100 for 10-straight days. Retail gasoline prices, meanwhile, have fallen 22 cents from April's peak of $3.70.
America's fracking revolution is a major reason why geopolitical unrest hasn't resulted in a surge in crude prices, which remain far below the $147 peak hit in 2008.
At around 7.2 million barrels per day, U.S. energy imports are down 26% since May 2008, Bloomberg reports; since that time, U.S. energy output has increased by over 3 million barrels per day.
"Fracking is a great example of innovation and technology" at work, says Yahoo Finance's Henry Blodget. "It's not perfect and there has to be a lot more study about the environmental effects...but it has been great for this country in terms of economic development, jobs and less dependence on the Middle East. This has been a wonderful development."
Indeed, there's a reason why people use the term "revolution" to describe the fracking boom as it has fundamentally changed our energy profile, which has major geopolitical and economic implications. It is also a reminder of how quickly things can change -- and not just for the worse as too many people seem to think. (As an aside, the reality is this fracking boom has occurred under President Obama's watch -- despite his opposition to the Keystone Pipeline and various regulatory obstacles to even more drilling.)
Of course, oil is a global commodity and America's energy revival is just one factor keeping oil prices in check: OPEC supply hit at a five-month high of 30.44 million barrels last month, thanks to increased production in Saudi Arabia and a recovery in Libyan output, "which more than made up for declines in Iraq, Iran and Nigeria," the International Energy Agency reports.
Critically, the increased supply -- from North America and OPEC -- is coming at a time of reduced demand. China's economic growth slowed to the 7% range from the heady days of double-digit growth and the People's Republic is no longer aggressively building a strategic reserve, as was the case a few years ago. Europe's economy remains moribund and U.S. growth remains subpar, despite recent signs of improvement.
The IEA reduced its 2014 global oil demand forecast to 1 million barrels per day, citing "lower‐than‐expected deliveries in the second quarter and the International Monetary Fund's weaker outlook for economic growth."
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