Once upon a time, way back when, the United States was at the top of the oil-production food chain, because, basically, you could poke a hole in the ground seemingly just about anywhere and the black gold would come bubbling up. (Seriously, that's basically what happened when they dug down 1,139 feet and Spindletop started gushing in Beaumont.)
Well, all of that changed over the course of the 20th century as the U.S. turned from being one of the biggest oil producers to being a country that ate up as much oil as we produced and then eventually started importing oil to keep everyone sated and oil-filled and happy.
Of course, all the while, Texas was one of the main producers of the stuff -- oil was called Texas Tea for a reason -- but after the energy crisis of the 1970s (we were running out of oil) and bust of the 1980s (there was lots of it and prices tanked), it seemed like the U.S. would never again produce more oil than it imported, and would always be showing up at the backdoors of other countries and leaning hard on OPEC (a.k.a. the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, a cartel that works together to line up their oil policies) to keep the oil flowing in.
This is the first time the production/import balance has shifted away from bringing oil in since 1997, according to a report from the Energy Information Administration, an arm of the Energy Department.
But then the shale plays started booming thanks to slant drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques that came right out of Texas. Before these dense, brittle formations deep below the surface started bubbling up crude oil a couple of years back, it seemed as if our time as an oil giant was a thing of the past, but the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, the Barnett Shale in North Texas (though this one is mostly natural gas, it got the shale fad started) and the Cline Shale in West Texas have changed all of that.
(Note: There's also the Marcellus in Pennsylvania and the Bakken in North Dakota, but the Marcellus is mostly natural gas and Bakken is basically in the middle of nowhere, so we're being a little snotty and lumping them over here in this little aside to you, avid reader.) Now, for the first time in decades, the U.S. is producing and exporting more oil than it is importing, according to Bloomberg. It's a big enough deal that it's got the folks over at OPEC studying shale plays, Businessweek reports.
(Fun fact: Despite how shale oil is being hailed as something of a miracle drug for the energy industry, oil people will be the first to say they've known of most of these plays all along, but never had the technology to get at the oil trapped in the dense shale formations up until now).
OPEC, of course, isn't threatened by this whole shale thing. Oh no, not that. Because oil isn't one of the most political commodities in the world and OPEC hasn't been in the position to control the price of said oil by how much the group decides to release or not release onto the world market for ages now. Yep, that's totally not how things work and the guys over at OPEC are totally fine with this. Or, you know, maybe not.
Anyway, it's kind of a big deal for the U.S. to be producing more than it's importing -- like the kind of important that is traditionally rewarded with a party with fancy cake -- and it's no stretch to note that Texas is once again the star pony of this party, producing barrels like we're never going to run out of the dinosaur soup that is now processed to run our cars and almost everything else you can think of in modern life.
And the reason Texas is the fanciest pony right now? It's all about those shale plays (it's also called "tight oil" but shale oil just has a better feel to it for us over at Hairballs). So now the big question is, will the Railroad Commission (the group that is very misnamed but is totally in charge of all things oil in Texas) start wearing t-shirts that say "RRC=OPEC"? How funny would that be? They could get baseball caps too.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.