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The Changing Geopolitics of Energy

In 2008, US policymakers worried that increasing dependence on energy imports, together with rising prices, would severely constrain American geopolitical influence. Instead, the revolution in shale energy has brought about a tectonic shift in international relations, one that promises to boost US global power in the long term.

TOKYO – In 2008, when the United States’ National Intelligence Council (NIC) published its volume Global Trends 2025, a key prediction was tighter energy competition. Chinese demand was growing, and non-OPEC sources like the North Sea were being depleted. After two decades of low and relatively stable prices, oil prices had soared to more than $100 per barrel in 2006. Many experts spoke of “peak oil” – the idea that reserves had “topped off” – and anticipated that production would become concentrated in the low-cost but unstable Middle East, where even Saudi Arabia was thought to be fully explored, with no more giant fields likely to be found.

The US was regarded as increasingly dependent on energy imports, and this, together with rising prices, was seen as a major limit on American geopolitical influence. Power had shifted to the producers.

The NIC analysts did not neglect the possibility of a technological surprise, but they focused on the wrong technology. Emphasizing the potential of renewables such as solar, wind, and hydro, they missed the main act.

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