From today's WSJ editorial "The Shale Gas Secret":
"One of the few bright patches in the Obama economy is the booming
production of shale gas and, increasingly, oil. The U.S. ranked 159th in
GDP growth last year. But in natural gas production, it's now No. 1.
How did that happen? Partly it's the luck of geology, though plenty
of other countries have abundant shale resources. Partly, too, it's
American technological leadership in developing hydraulic fracturing
(fracking) and horizontal drilling. But those techniques are now widely
understood the world over.
What gave the U.S. its edge is that the early development risks were
largely borne by small-time entrepreneurs, drilling a lot of dry holes
on private land. These "wildcat" developers were gradually able to buy
up oil, gas and mineral leases from private owners while gathering
enough geological data to bring in commercial producers.
Now compare this to Europe, which sits on an estimated 639 trillion
cubic feet of shale gas yet remains heavily dependent on Russian
imports. The governments of France and Bulgaria have banned fracking on
dubious safety grounds, with nary any pushback from their publics. That
might not be the case if French farmers, for example, were able to
profit from the riches underneath their terroir.
Countries such as Poland and Great Britain are willing to develop
their shale potential. Yet in both places the absence of private mineral
rights has delayed exploration and production.
In time, perhaps even the French will recognize their lost opportunity
and lift their ban on fracking. But the deeper lesson is that this is a
revolution that came about not through government planning or foresight,
but through a combination of individual risk-taking and private
property. Europeans could benefit by doing more to broaden the latitude