Nearly 30 years ago, a Texas oilman named George P. Mitchell threw his money behind an idea: that breaking apart dense underground shale formations could release vast reserves of natural gas. The bet took over a decade to pay off, but the wait was worth it, not only making Mitchell a billionaire, but also fundamentally reordering the global balance of energy and the political power that comes with it.
Only in the past several years has the extent of the shake-up become fully apparent. Thanks to investments made by Mitchell's industry heirs in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," U.S. shale gas production nearly quintupled between 2006 and 2010 to 4.8 trillion cubic feet -- almost a quarter of U.S. natural gas production -- and prices plummeted. Meanwhile, geologists have mapped eye-poppingly large shale gas reserves throughout Europe and the United States -- most notably Terry Engelder and Gary Lash, who in 2008 estimated the reserves of the U.S. Northeast's Marcellus Shale formation at a monstrous 500 trillion cubic feet, making it the world's largest unconventional natural gas reserve.
Less than a decade ago, the United States was bracing for a future of importing natural gas from countries like Qatar and possibly Russia, which for years has wielded its gas reserves as a political weapon against its neighbors. Now gas prices in the United States have halved from three years ago, production has risen to heights not seen since 1973, and the country is looking at a once improbable future as an energy exporter. "My engineers kept telling me, 'You are wasting your money, Mitchell,'" the oilman told an interviewer two years ago. "We made it to be the hottest thing going."
Muse Seamus McGraw, author of The End of Country.
Stimulus or austerity? Government spending on developing (and repairing) infrastructure during economic hard times is not a bad idea.
America or China? America will surely fall off the wagon if it fails the best and brightest of its primary- and secondary-school students as appears to be the case presently.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Summer comes after the spring. I am looking forward to it!
Reading list Power Hungry, by Robert Bryce; Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson; The Last Stand, by Nathaniel Philbrick.
Best idea Declare victory in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring the troops home, letting the chips fall where they may.
Worst idea Continuing government farm subsidies for the purpose of manufacturing corn ethanol.
Muse That we should have faith in America's future and gain inspiration from its past.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus -- and at a higher level.
America or China? America has the greater potential.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Arab Spring; this movement seems to be gaining momentum.
Reading list Power Hungry, by Robert Bryce; American Theocracy, by Kevin Phillips; The Quest, by Daniel Yergin.
Best idea Take advantage of the United States' wealth in natural gas.
Worst idea We can solve our energy problems by relying on wind and solar energy plans.
This 74-year-old Gandhi devotee has been railing against government corruption since his days as a rural organizer decades ago, but in 2011, when a series of high-profile scandals reached the highest levels of India's ruling Congress party, his message finally seemed to resonate. Twice this year, Anna Hazare went on a hunger strike in New Delhi to demand tough legislation that would create a powerful new government anti-corruption watchdog. When the soft-spoken Hazare was arrested in August, tens of thousands of his supporters took to the streets throughout the country, bringing government to a standstill. Finally, the Indian Parliament agreed to debate his ideas, and Hazare ended his fast.
Indian elites dismiss Hazare's demands as naive and even dangerous. He and his brain trust, including Arvind Kejriwal, a key activist behind the so-called Jan Lokpal Bill, favor an anti-corruption chief with sweeping, near-dictatorial powers and have called for the death penalty to deter corrupt officials. But it's hard to deny that drastic measures need to be taken when the world's fifth-largest economy ranks 87th in the world on government transparency. For now the simplicity and single-mindedness of Hazare's crusade has awakened millions of middle-class professionals who are fed up with India's pervasive culture of graft. "You have lit a torch against corruption," Hazare told his supporters. Now that it's burning, he's unlikely to let it go out.