Donald Trump has called the last week of June as Energy Week, but if the trend holds 2017 could be remembered as Energy Year. Americans love exploiting the gasoline abundance that emboldened Fourth of July holiday drivers to hit the road in record numbers. When the brakes are released, the great American economic machine is ready to gas up and take off.
The average price for a gallon of regular gas at the pump nationwide during the Glorious Fourth stood at $2.23, the least expensive in 12 years. Price normally rises because demand for fuel spikes as refineries switch over to more costly summer blends, and vacationing families hit the open road. Though drivers in unique places like Hawaii are still paying more than $3 a gallon, motorists in South Carolina are paying less than $2, and in some places as (relatively) little as $1.75.
The new year arrived with gloomy headlines predicting an end to the gasoline good news, as in this dispatch at the news site MarketWatch: “Gasoline prices may hit 3-year high in 2017 as cheap-gas era ends.” Its forecast for the average gas price nationwide for June was $2.63. Actual average price started the month at $2.37 and finished at $2.24.
Low gasoline prices are the fruit of an industry going gangbusters. Since 2012, domestic petroleum production, including crude oil and liquefied natural gas, has increased by 42 percent to 12.6 million barrels a day, according to statistics collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. As a result, the American Automobile Association reports that 82 million more barrels of oil are in storage than five years ago. Plenty means lower prices.
The growth of American energy came largely in spite of President Obama’s policies rather than because of them. The United States stands on the verge of energy independence, which Mr. Trump told an Energy Week audience at the Energy Department late last month that he intends to transform energy independence into energy dominance. “We are now on the cusp of a true energy revolution,” he said. “We are a top producer of petroleum and the No. 1 producer of natural gas. We have so much more than we ever thought possible. We are really in the driver’s seat.”
For the sudden abundance of energy, Americans can thank the innovative hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling technique for unlocking oil deposits in hard-to-access rock formations. A milestone was reached in 2016 when fracking produced more than half of the nation’s crude oil.
Fracking has accelerated natural gas production, too. During the past five years, output of clean-burning natural gas rose 11 percent to about 90 billion cubic feet per day. In 2016, natural gas surpassed coal as the leading fuel for generation of the electricity that drives all those expensive battery-powered vehicles so dear to “green” Americans.
Coal could make a comeback. Mr. Trump has rescinded his predecessor’s ban on the financing of coal-fired power plants in developing nations. Exports of coal to Ukraine and liquified natural gas to Asia, which Congress approved in 2015, will produce “millions and millions of jobs,” in the president’s words, realizing his most oft-repeated campaign promise.
Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and suspension of regulations governing domestic greenhouse gas emissions mean favoring extremist environmental policies is ending and a new age of American prosperity powered by affordable energy is at hand. It gives new meaning to Independence Day.