A stunning report from The Associated Press offered the prediction that the United States soon may surpass Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer.
This news comes after years of concerns about dwindling petroleum resources, not only in this country, but in other parts of the world as well. As a result, increased dependency on oil from the Middle East and other potentially unstable areas has become the norm.
One consequence of this situation is that any hint of political instability in the Middle East, or the threat of war, causes a spike in oil prices.
When a key resource is constantly endangered by potential violence, it becomes a drain on the economy.
So in that regard, it's welcome news that America is boosting oil production. Experts anticipate a 7 percent rise in production this year, to 10.9 million barrels per day — the fourth annual increase in a row and the largest since 1951.
How is this possible, when America's oil was said to be rapidly draining away? The answer, it seems, is technology.
It's the same technology that's prompting a boom in shale gas exploration in Pennsylvania. Scientific advances are allowing drillers to tap into deep layers of rock and fracturing them to free the fossil fuels pooling there.
Anything that reduces this country's dependence on energy from unstable parts of the world has to be seen as a positive. Yet there can be negative consequences. For instance, a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago wreaked havoc on the region, and its full impact remains unknown.
And as the number of drilling operations expand in areas not used to them, there will be conflicts and controversies.
Meanwhile, some people may wonder why the price of gasoline at the pumps remains so high if domestic oil production is rising so rapidly. One reason is that despite the domestic oil boom, this country continues to import a substantial percentage of its energy needs.
But equally significant is the fact plentiful domestic oil doesn't necessarily translate into cheap oil. Drilling deep underground, or far out to sea, are expensive processes. Despite transportation factors, it costs much less to drill and recover oil in the Middle East, than to produce it in America.
This means that strong incentives remain for promoting energy efficiency in order to reduce consumption and to pursue research into cost-effective domestic energy alternatives. America may have dodged an energy bullet with the aid of new drilling technologies, but we are looking toward science to render even more assistance down the road.
New Castle News New Castle, Pa.