NEW YORK — Technology created an energy revolution over the past decade — just not the one we expected.
By now, cars were supposed to be running on fuel made from plant waste or algae — or powered by hydrogen or cheap batteries that burned nothing at all. Electricity would be generated with solar panels and wind turbines. When the sun didn’t shine or the wind didn’t blow, power would flow out of batteries the size of tractor-trailers.
Fossil fuels? They were going to be expensive and scarce, relics of an earlier, dirtier age.
But in the race to conquer energy technology, Old Energy is winning.
Oil companies big and small have used technology to find a bounty of oil and natural gas so large that worries about running out have melted away. New imaging technologies let drillers find oil and gas trapped miles underground and undersea. Oil rigs “walk” from one drill site to the next. And engineers in Houston use remote-controlled equipment to drill for gas in Pennsylvania.
The result is an abundance that has put the United States on track to become the world’s largest producer of oil and gas in a few years. As domestic production has soared, oil imports have fallen to a 17-year low, the U.S. government reported Thursday.
The gushers aren’t limited to Texas, North Dakota and the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Overseas, enormous reserves have been found in East and West Africa, Australia, South America and the Mediterranean.
“Suddenly, out of nowhere, the world seems to be awash in hydrocarbons,” says Michael Greenstone, an environmental economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The consequences are enormous. A looming energy crisis has turned into a boom. These additional fossil fuels are intensifying the threat to the earth’s climate. And for renewable energy sources, the sunny forecast of last decade has turned overcast.