Amidst the host of this year’s forthcoming Twitterverse epitaphs will be yet another neoliberal linguistic invention (think along the same lines as previous ones: globalization and/or glocalization): fracking. Hydraulic fracturing (as it is formally known) is a mix of fracturing and cracking. It is the energy industry practice of exploding shale rock material thousands of meters below the earth’s surface. Following a series of horizontally aligned explosions into the rock material and the subsequent injection of a water-sand-chemical mixture into the subterranean void; oil and natural gas is left to flow, safely and unimpeded, to the earth’s surface. Obviously, the safely and unimpeded idea is quite contentious, as most environmental cum anti-oil types will highlight the fact that drilling cores pass through an underground fresh water aquifer in order to reach the deeply located shale rock layer. Most of the time, hydrocarbons will flow up the pipeline without affecting the horizontally adjacent aquifer. Indeed, safeguards such as steel and concrete walls prevent such environmental catastrophes from reaching fruition, but the potential for newly liberated natural gas to laterally seep through newly fractured substratum up into aquifers remains a likely and documented possibility.
Whatever the environmental outcome, the fracking industry has developed relatively unabated since 2005 when the Bush administration placed the fracking process outside the supervisory purview of the US Environmental Protection Agency. It was also around this time that the technology for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing was beginning to reach a point of industrial feasibility. Since then, the fracking industry has grown at an astonishing rate to a point where in 2012 the industry was responsible an estimated 1.7 million American jobs. By even the most conservative estimates, the unconventional oil and natural gas industry will be responsible for an estimated 3.5 million jobs by 2035 – a prediction that coincides neatly with the International Energy Associations projection that by 2035, the United States will be wholly energy independent. About half of this projected independence will be achieved on the shoulders of the development of shale gas. The energy market share held by fracking in the US is expected to double in size from 23% in 2010 to 49% in 2035. Granted the correlative growth of the fracking industry and America’s predicted energy boon may not be entirely causally related, (which is to concede that fracking will not necessarily cause America’s energy independence) but the presence of both these observed and predicted phenomena warrant some consideration into what will become of America’s role in the world as the preeminent net energy consumer.
However inconsequential my Twitterverse prediction may actually be, it mirrors something quite profound in the level of social awareness surrounding America’s shifting place in the world as the energy consumer and global commons moderator. What the increased presence of “#fracking” in the 2013 Twitterverse will mean is that American’s are slowly beginning to understand that within two decades, the “Middle East” (broadly speaking) may all but disappear from the nation’s Foreign Policy discussion. Where the energy and foreign policy conversation will land and refocus is up for grabs, though if I were to throw a proverbial dart at the world map and call it a Delphic prediction – I would aim for somewhere in and around China.