Late last year, National Public Radio (NPR) reported that the United States may have finally achieved energy independence. Based on data culled from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), 2013 was the year that the US became the world's biggest producer of oil and natural gas. The hallowed radio news organization interviewed former Reagan underling J. Robin West, who likened the watershed moment to the toppling of the Berlin wall.
But something is missing from the party here, especially here in Orange County: low gas prices.
A quick look around the stations between La Habra and Irvine shows prices hovering at $3.75 for 89 octane, which begs the question: whatever happened to the laws of supply and demand?
Experts say that increases in the use of technology such as fracking and horizontal drilling in the oil fields of North Dakota have led to some relief at the pump–but those same experts add that California is a market unto itself.
“California refineries don't have the same access to this new oil as the rest of the country,” Mason Hamilton, an EIA markets analyst told the Weekly. “You don't have pipelines bringing gasoline into California from other parts of the US.”
While logistics certainly play into California's gas problem, Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow at the non-profit think tank Post Carbon Institute, argues that there's something more basic than logistics to consider.
“Oil is never going to become more affordable because we've gotten the cheap easy stuff already,” Heinberg told the Weekly. “[Now] it's all from tar sands or it's from light, tight oil in North Dakota or south Texas, which requires fracturing or horizontal drilling, which is expensive.”
Fracking, as it turns out, is both expensive and costly–at the moment, most of the country is locked in a deep freeze and California is experiencing its driest year on record. Respected scientists and other groups such as the California Department of Water Resources say the freak weather is due, at least in part, to man's rampant use of oil and petroleum products.
Heinberg argues that as oil becomes more expensive to harvest and the consequences of their use becomes more apparent, the country should be looking at alternative options.
“Where's our plan B? We should be figuring that into our national strategy for five to 10 years from now when it's even harder to get the stuff out of the ground.”