2012 Report: Oil — The Next Revolution
Dynamics within the oil business are famously difficult to interpret and predict. Still, certain hard facts about the industry remain well known — for example, that oil accounts for some 40% of U.S. energy consumption, or that the major companies in this sector have made huge profits in the recent years. The oil future will be influenced not only by geopolitical factors but also advanced industrial techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” that have the potential to unleash new resources, but don’t come without significant health risks and controversy.
A 2012 study from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs surveys the horizon of global oil production, knitting together a variety of emerging factors in order to make projections about the future of oil. The study, “Oil: The Next Revolution,” analyzes trends across the industry and considers the potential impact of various exploration projects.
The study’s author asserts that:
- By 2020, global oil output capacity could grow by nearly 20% — from 93 million barrels a day to 110 million: “This would represent the most significant increase in any decade since the 1980s.”
- An increase in global oil output by a net 17.5 million barrels a day by 2020 is the most likely scenario, given the constraints of various technical, financial and political risk factors, as well as the decline of some existing sources.
- The most surprising country with a potential surge in petroleum output is the United States: “Thanks to the technological revolution brought about by the combined use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the U.S. is now exploiting its huge and virtually untouched shale and tight oil fields.”
- For the United States, this could ultimately mean that it could become the “second largest oil producer in the world after Saudi Arabia. Adding biofuels to this figure, the overall U.S. liquid capacity could exceed 13 million barrels a day, representing about 65% of its current consumption.”
- “After considering risk factors, depletion patterns and reserve growth, four countries show the highest potential in terms of effective production capacity growth: They are, in order, Iraq, the U.S., Canada, and Brazil. This is a novelty, because three out of four of these countries are part of the western hemisphere, and one only — Iraq — belongs to the traditional center of gravity of the oil world, the Persian Gulf.”
“For the first time, new areas of the world — from sub-equatorial Africa to Asia and Latin America — are being targeted for mass exploration, and unveiling the potential for significant conventional oil production over the next years,” the author notes. “Furthermore, the combination of high oil prices, advanced technologies that were once uneconomical, and restricted access to conventional oil resources in the major oil-producing countries is pushing private oil companies to explore and develop unconventional oils on a broader scale.”
Tags: fossil fuels
Read the issue-related Wall Street Journal article titled "Oil Producers Look to Expand Arctic Exploration."
- What key insights from the news article and the study in this lesson should reporters be aware of as they cover these issues? What important trends in the oil industry are changing the dynamics of the sector globally?
Read the study titled “Oil: The Next Revolution.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?