ISTANBUL—New energy trends are bolstering the United States and China, giving their industries a sharp competitive edge over Europe’s and Japan’s in the next quarter-century, according to a major new study by the International Energy Agency. However, IEA’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, suggested that Europe can arrest its long competitive slide if it reverses a thus-far halting approach to the development of shale gas and oil.
Birol, addressing a conference organized by the Atlantic Council in Istanbul, spoke Friday as part of a week-long rollout of the IEA’s much-watched annual energy outlook. On Nov. 12, the IEA began the launch by forecasting that the US will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer in 2017 and hold that position through the early 2020s before slipping back to second or third place. The US is already the world’s largest natural gas producer.
The US leap in hydrocarbon production stems from the surprising success of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of shale gas and oil in places like North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The story has been different in Europe, which also possesses potentially rich shale formations but has experienced environmental resistance to developing it. France and Germany have banned fracking, and Germany is considering doing so. Permitting has been slow in some other European countries, said Chevron’s Ian MacDonald. Europe, as with some US communities and states, has adopted the cautious approach because of the potential for poisoned drinking water and other concerns.