After several major Northeast oil refineries shuttered operations last year, a rebirth of East Coast refineries that utilize the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is altering the United States’ energy future, paving the way for it to become the world’s top oil producer within the next five years.
Amidst already rising gasoline prices, in March 2012 three major refineries serving New England and other parts of the Northeast ceased operations. Analysts projected that the loss of production from these plants, which account for more than half of the East Coast’s refining capacity, could inflate New England gas prices by an average of 15 cents per gallon — in addition to price spikes driven by domestic regulations, unrest in the Middle East, and other global disruptions.
Refiners halted production after losing billions of dollars over the past few years, spawned largely by weakened economic conditions, increased competition abroad, and an influx of new environmental regulations. Oil company Sunoco Inc. of Philadelphia lost nearly $1 billion over three years, resulting in numerous plant shutdowns. “We could stay in the refining business and put the entire company at risk,” Sunoco spokesman Thomas Golembeski noted last year, “or we could exit the refining business and stop the financial losses.”
In recent years, fracking has unearthed vast reserves of natural gas, and it has now popped the cork on lavish reserves of crude oil trapped in shale deposits. In fact, the practice has ramped up domestic production so much that the United States is expected to unseat Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2017 — as well as become a net oil exporter by 2030 — according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency.
In addition to a boost in overall energy efficiency, the New York Times reported in a November 2012 article, rising oil production by unconventional practices will greatly bolster the United States’ standing in the global oil marketplace:
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