How The Fracking Boom Postponed OPEC’s World Domination

A decade ago it appeared that OPEC was in the driver’s seat of the global oil markets. Then the fracking revolution happened, and changed everything.

In the previous article, Asia’s Insatiable Oil Demand, I covered global and regional oil consumption numbers according to the recently-released 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

To recap, global oil consumption rose to a new record high in 2018, and has now increased in 31 of the past 34 years. Over the past decade, global oil consumption has increased by 11.1 million barrels per day (BPD). The primary driver behind the past decade’s demand jump is the Asia Pacific region, which was the source of 77% of the world’s demand growth over that time.

Today, I want to discuss the source of the world’s new oil production in recent years.

A decade ago, in the summer of 2008, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was racing toward $150 a barrel. Over the previous three years, the world had only increased oil production by 1.2 million BPD, and it essentially all came from OPEC.

Many analysts, including me, were extremely concerned about the future hold OPEC would maintain over the world’s oil supplies. It appeared that there would an enormous transfer of wealth from those countries dependent upon oil imports — like the United States — to OPEC countries. In many cases, these countries have interests that are hostile to those of the U.S., so this was very much an issue of national security.

But the future played out differently than it seemed it would in the summer of 2008. Unbeknownst to most people, oil producers were experimenting with a marriage between two established oil drilling technologies — horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

The success of this marriage would unlock oil in tight oil and shale oil deposits that had previously been too expensive to recover, and would result in one of the greatest oil booms the world had ever seen. In fact, the “fracking revolution” caused U.S. oil production to turn upward in 2009, and then rise over the next seven years at the fastest rate in U.S. history.

While it is still true that OPEC produced 42.6% of the world’s oil in 2017, the majority of new oil production since 2008 has come from the U.S.