Right now, the country with the world’s biggest oil reserves — Venezuela — is putting out a fraction of its traditional production, as a corrupt and inept socialist government has lost the ability even to keep the golden goose going. Meanwhile, Iraq is in turmoil, Iran is crazy and Saudi Arabia has been looking shaky.
Despite all this, oil and gas prices are holding steady, and while what’s going on in the Middle East constitutes a diplomatic crisis, it’s nothing like the sort of earthshaking trouble it would have been a decade or two ago.
For decades, U.S. foreign policy and defense strategy revolved around keeping the flow of oil from the Middle East going. Now it’s an afterthought. In fact, though the Navy used to have to be able to keep the Strait of Hormuz open so that oil could flow out against possible Iranian efforts to stop it, now the Navy only needs to be able to keep the strait closed, keeping Iran from selling the oil it produces for revenue it desperately needs.
Even an Iranian drone attack that shut down half of Saudi Arabia’s output didn’t have much impact.
And world markets know that Donald Trump, or any subsequent American president, can quickly boost supplies even further by opening up federal land to hydraulic fracturing, which extracts oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals.
Any effort to block the flow of oil would probably just have the effect of boosting U.S. market share, making the United States even more economically powerful.
That’s not just bad news for Iran. It also weakens the hand of Saudi Arabia, which has gone from jihad-encouraging frenemy to a nervous ally as it faces Iran across the Persian Gulf, while its power over the United States is also reduced.
Fracking also drastically undercuts the power of Vladimir Putin, whose economic leverage depends on Russian oil and gas exports.
And it’s not just the United States undercutting Putin. As Cornell law professor William Jacobson blogged, while everyone was focused on the killing of Iranian terror general Qasem Soleimani, Israel became a natural gas superpower. The new offshore Tamar and Leviathan gas fields give Israel a huge new supply of cheap natural gas, enough to supply its own needs while leaving huge amounts to export.
This is particularly significant because Israel’s biggest market is Europe, now dependent on, you guessed it, piped-in gas from Russia. Europe is also starting to receive shipments of natural gas from the United States, once again, courtesy of fracking.
Environmentalists oppose fracking, but it’s hard to understand why. Fracking has led to the replacement of coal with cleaner-burning natural gas. United States carbon emissions have fallen largely because of this substitution.
Putin doesn’t like this and has dispatched Russian trolls to try to stop pipelines in the United States. He has worked against U.S. fracking and has also tried to block Canadian oil sands development. And he’s getting help.
Back in 2017, in response to claims that President Trump was a Putin puppet, scholar Walter Russell Mead commented:
“If Trump were the Manchurian candidate that people keep wanting to believe that he is, here are some of the things he’d be doing:
► Limiting fracking as much as he possibly could
► Blocking oil and gas pipelines
► Opening negotiations for major nuclear arms reductions
► Cutting U.S. military spending
► Trying to tamp down tensions with Russia’s ally Iran
That Trump is planning to do precisely the opposite of these things may or may not be good policy for the United States, but anybody who thinks this is a Russia appeasement policy has been drinking way too much joy juice.
Barack Obama actually did all of these things, and none of the liberal media now up in arms about Trump ever called Obama a Russian puppet.
They don’t call the Democratic presidential candidates, who have pretty much all come out against fracking and pipelines, Putin puppets. But what’s more likely to strengthen the United States and weaken our adversaries — from Putin to the ayatollahs to the Chinese — than a bigger boost for American energy independence? Someone should ask them why they want to make us weaker and Putin stronger.
In the meantime, as you look at reasonable energy bills and a booming economy in spite of turmoil in the Middle East, give thanks to the people who have made it possible. Have you hugged a fracker today?
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.