The authors provide this projection:
Based on that assumption, they make this prediction:
A number of countries are highly dependent on oil income and have created societies and economies that assume the price of oil and gas will be kept high.
"Even more alarming is the prospect of instability in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, the Saudi royal family was able to head off an Arab Spring-style revolution because of its enormous oil revenues, doling out $130 billion in benefits to pacify the country’s younger and poorer inhabitants. Should lower oil prices make such patronage impossible in the future, the kingdom could face domestic unrest — making the country a far less reliable partner for America in fighting terrorism and countering Iran. Moreover, if Saudi Arabia has less of its own money to spend on regional security, Washington will have to make up for the shortfall."
A dramatic fall in the price of oil would have repercussions outside the Middle East with the possibility of political fallout in places such as Russia, Venezuela, and in select nations of Africa and Central Asia.
The authors wish to disabuse everyone of the notion that life will become simpler once they become independent of the international oil market.
Alter and Fishman consider the issues that might arise from the US attaining energy independence. Obviously, there are other countries out there who would also like to reduce or eliminate the need for imported fossil fuels. Is there a means by which other countries could follow the projected path of the US? That is a topic covered by an interesting article by Charles C. Mann in The Atlantic: What If We Never Run Out of Oil?
Mann acknowledges the seeming inexhaustibility of the various oil sources that have been discovered. He also recognizes that other nations are likely to have the opportunity to take advantage of new technologies and new sources such as fracking for shale oil and gas. However, he is most interested in the possibility of exploiting yet another source of natural gas: methane hydrate, undersea deposits of methane "frozen" into a water lattice at high pressures and low temperatures.
Estimates of quantities are uncertain. At least as interesting as its perceived abundance is its ubiquity. It seems to be available to just about any country that has coastal access to relatively deep seawater.
Life flourishes in the seas near land. When living matter dies it sinks to the bottom and forms sediment. Microorganisms exist that feed off this accumulating residue.
"....water pressure and temperature keep them stable at depths below about 1,000 feet. Scientists on the surface refer to them by many names: methane hydrate, of course, but also methane clathrate, gas hydrate, hydromethane, and methane ice."
There are a number of technically-advanced countries that would like to have access to their own large sources of natural gas rather than be required to import most of their fossil fuels. Mann emphasizes the large and long-term investment that Japan has made in attempts to mine this prevalent nearby source. The Asian nations of China, India, Korea, and Taiwan have their own research efforts. A number of Western nations are also involved, including the US and Canada.
Mann provides a view of the extent of the Japanese effort by describing the activities of the research ship Chikyu (Earth).
"The Chikyu, which first set out in 2005, was initially intended to probe earthquake-generating zones in the planet’s mantle, a subject of obvious interest to seismically unstable Japan. Its present undertaking was, if possible, of even greater importance: trying to develop an energy source that could free not just Japan but much of the world from the dependence on Middle Eastern oil that has bedeviled politicians since Churchill’s day."
"Japan, which has spent about $700 million on methane-hydrate R&D over the past decade, has the world’s biggest hydrate-research program....In mid-March, Japan’s Chikyu test ended a week early, after sand got in the well mechanism. But by then the researchers had already retrieved about 4 million cubic feet of natural gas from methane hydrate, at double the expected rate. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is eager to create a domestic oil industry; at present, the nation produces just one one-thousandth of its own needs. Perhaps overoptimistically, the ministry set 2018 as a target date for commercializing methane hydrate."
If the notion of an abundant new energy source becoming available in about ten years sounds farfetched, Mann reminds us of the history associated with fracking.
If Alter and Fishman were concerned about the effects of the US attaining energy independence, what would they anticipate happening if countries like Japan, Korea, China, and India were able to one day soon greatly diminish their need for imported fossil fuels?
If methane hydrate becomes a commercial source of natural gas, Mann anticipates numerous international disputes and widespread turmoil.
"Augmenting the instability would be methane hydrate itself, much of which is inconveniently located in areas of disputed sovereignty....Methane-hydrate deposits run like crystalline bands through maritime flash points: the Arctic, and waters off West Africa and Southeast Asia."
It is both fascinating and frightening to think that such large changes can occur over the span of a decade.
Hang on, we are about to experience the curse of living in "interesting times."