Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

America, the Saudi Arabia of tomorrow

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 11:04 AM EST, Mon January 14, 2013
President Obama at an oil and gas production field near Maljamar, New Mexico in March, 2012.
President Obama at an oil and gas production field near Maljamar, New Mexico in March, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: The U.S. will become the world's leading oil producer in a few years
  • Ghitis: It is truly transformational that the U.S. is giving up its addiction to foreign oil
  • Despite energy independence, we need to keep looking into green energy, she says
  • Ghitis: It's beneficial for the U.S. to not rely on unstable, undemocratic Middle East for oil

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- We pay a lot of attention to revolutions when they emerge suddenly and violently, but when a transformation arrives gradually and peacefully it's easy to miss.

Let's stop for a moment and take a look at a slow-motion development changing the world as we know it: The United States is giving up its addiction to foreign oil.

For decades, we bemoaned the awful toll this addiction has taken. The need for oil and natural gas -- much of it from Middle Eastern dictatorships -- shaped the foundation of global geopolitics. It created morally questionable alliances and repeatedly placed Washington in a position to choose between its fundamental values and its economic interests. Now all that could change.

When President Obama started his first term, the country faced stiff economic headwinds. Now, as he prepares to start his second term, the country enjoys a rare and unexpected tailwind, propelling it in one of the most important areas, with a host of positive implications.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis
Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Clearly, the booming American oil and gas businesses are not problem-free, but the benefits -- economic, geopolitical and environmental -- of this impending energy independence far outweigh the drawbacks.

The days when Mideast oil-producing dictatorships and their friends at OPEC could so easily wave their power over a trembling, oil-thirsty West are on their way to becoming a relic of the past.

America still needs imported oil. But growing production and shrinking consumption have created a most promising trend. According to the International Energy Agency, the United States will become the world's leading oil producer in just a few years. Imagine that. The United States could produce more oil than Saudi Arabia as early as 2017 and become a net oil exporter by 2030.

And if you count other petroleum products, the future is already here. In 2011, the United States exported more petroleum products -- including gasoline, diesel and other fuels -- than it imported. That had not happened in more than half a century.

David Frum: A tax we could learn to love

The first major sign of impact is visible in Iran. The loosening of oil markets has strengthened the world's hand against oil-rich Iran. One main reason the international community has been able to impose strong sanctions on Tehran, aimed at persuading the regime to stop its illegal nuclear enrichment program, is that the global economy can do without Iranian oil. Iran's production has fallen 40%, a drop that not long ago would have created unacceptable economic hardships for the rest of the planet.

U.S. oil forecast
U.S. oil production on the rise
To frack or not to frack
CNN Explains: Fracking

The trend is even more dramatic when you include natural gas, a product that is revolutionizing energy markets. The United States is about to become the second-largest exporter of natural gas behind Russia. Gigantic oil and gas finds in the United States and elsewhere are transforming the landscape, in some cases quite literally.

Other than rising oil prices, the reason for this shift is that new and controversial technologies such as fracking and horizontal drilling have multiplied the amount of viable deposits in unexpected places. The techniques take an environmental toll, but there are upsides.

Fracking, as we keep learning, is creating very troubling problems, which deserve scrutiny. But it is helping to replace coal, the dirtiest form of energy production, with much cleaner natural gas.

Another dark lining in this silver cloud is that cheaper oil and gas will reduce incentives to produce green energies. Rather than abandoning the new sources of energy, efforts should focus on finding ways to reduce the negative impact of fracking and on continuing the push for alternative energy.

Fracking protesters say drilling jobs not worth environmental risks

The Obama administration now faces a balancing act as it starts its new term. Energy policy, the quest for full energy independence, must be weighed against the growing threat of climate change.

A decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is imminent and political pressure against fracking will grow. The president should support strong climate legislation, without reversing the powerful gains of surging U.S. oil and gas production, with all its transformational benefits. The two goals are not mutually exclusive.

Once upon a time, America was the Saudi Arabia of whale oil, the fuel of its day. Whale oil was displaced by hydrocarbon production, which the United States also dominated. That started changing with enormous geopolitical consequences after easy, high quality oil was found in the Arabian Peninsula and other parts of the Middle East.

The United States built alliances with autocratic regimes as part of a commitment to satisfy its needs and preserve the free flow of oil, which became the life-blood of the global economy.

For oil-rich countries, this brought enormous fortunes, but it also brought something known as the "resource curse." With wealth concentrated in the hands of autocrats, corruption mushroomed, and other sectors of the economy withered.

A trend away from the concentration of oil production in such an unstable, undemocratic part of the world bodes well. It bodes well for human rights, and it also bodes well, ironically, for the economies of oil-rich countries, which may at long last find an incentive to diversify into other industries. It certainly bodes well for the U.S. economy, which is already creating tens of thousands of jobs in industries related to the new boom.

William Bennett: Damon's film overlooks fracking's boon

In what sounds like something from another era, the Energy Information Administration forecast declining gasoline prices for the next few years. That's the first bit of good news for American consumers. The really good news is the knowledge that soon, every time you fill up your tank you will not be sending a piece of your paycheck to the Middle East.

That, among other things, is excellent news for America's balance of trade and for the soundness of the U.S. economy, which sadly now struggles with a politically dysfunctional Washington.

No matter how much oil the United States and its friends in the Western Hemisphere produce, the Middle East remains a principal global petroleum producer for the foreseeable future. The United States still needs to ensure the free flow of oil, because a stop in production will cause prices to spike on global markets, affecting the entire planet.

But America and its friends are becoming much less vulnerable to oil shocks. And supplies from other parts of the world are becoming more plentiful. The emerging changes in the world's energy markets, if they continue to develop, are nothing short of revolutionary.

As Obama prepares for a new term in office, they are gradually rerouting us from a destiny that we had thought was inescapable and rather dismal to one that, while far from assured, looks much more promising.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT