The stunning turn of fortunes was largely overlooked in a whirlwind of other Washington news this month: Nearly half a century of free-market initiatives and government encouragement has turned what long looked like an American weakness into a strength.
"We're becoming the dominant energy power in the world," Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, told Bloomberg. The United States is now the world's biggest petroleum producer, ahead of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and all the others.
That's remarkable news for Americans with capacious memories. In the early 1970s, energy shortages pounded the American psyche and drove several of the world's supposedly robust industrial economies into recessions.
The fracking revolution's bonanza of energy production was mostly unanticipated. In 2008, the International Energy Agency estimated that U.S. oil and gas production would be flat to declining until about 2030. Instead, by 2013, U.S. crude production had leaped by 49 percent.
Market forces and market freedoms birthed fracking and related extraction technologies that have vastly increased the potential supply of oil and natural gas. These techniques create their own environmental risks, and we won't diminish or ignore them. That said, no incentive has been as integral to U.S. energy domination in recent years as the ability of wildcat drillers and other entrepreneurs to win returns on their investments.
In this country, governments let market pricing drive refiners' decisions on how to align supplies with demands.
America rode energy technologies and supplies to became the world's leading nation in the 19th and 20th centuries. Maybe breakthroughs in energy storage, hydrogen, fusion or other fields we can't today envision will revolutionize how we power, heat, cool, move and carry.
Based on the last two centuries of American history and the evidence now on (and under) the ground, the R&D that yield those breakthroughs are likeliest to occur if a free-market U.S. economy continues to grow and prosper.