Illinois is on the verge of deciding to pursue a world-changing boom in energy production.
Nothing is ever guaranteed in Springfield, but the odds are better than good that the General Assembly will pass a so-called "fracking" bill before adjournment.
When and if that happens, Illinois will join a host of other states that perceive this new form of energy exploration as a good way to produce not just oil and natural gas, but jobs. North Dakota and Texas are just two of the states reaping the rewards of an economic boom generated by fracking, the reverberations of which were being felt this week in Vienna, Austria.
It was there that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) met to discuss the huge problem posed to their cartel by dramatic increases in shale-oil production in the United States.
Hydraulic fracturing — aka "fracking" — is the process by which high-pressure mixtures of water, sand, gravel and chemicals are used to crack rock formations deep underground and retrieve the stores of oil and natural gas held there. These vast energy stores were previously unreachable to drillers who lacked the necessary equipment and economic incentive to invest in the retrieval process.
But as the price of oil has skyrocketed and technology has improved, energy exploration companies have found they can capture energy deep underground and do so at a profit.
Energy production peaked in the United States in 1970 and steadily declined over the next 20 years. Now U.S. energy production, thanks to fracking, is booming. U.S. crude oil production is at a 21-year high and, along with that in Canada, is expected to jump another 21 percent by 2019.
Discussed for years as an unrealistic goal by politicians, this country actually could become energy independent. That is a horror story for OPEC countries who have used their cartel to set prices and production, generating fabulous amounts of income in the process.
The United States, of course, is not the only country in the world that consumes oil and natural gas. But the less the U.S. buys from other countries, the more energy OPEC has to sell and the harder it is to maintain a price of roughly $100 a barrel. That is what OPEC met to discuss, and the conversation was complicated by the reality that each OPEC member has different interests to protect.
Environmentalists may fear fracking in Illinois, even though the proposed legislation contains the toughest standards in the country. But this process is changing the world in ways that weaken a previously all-powerful energy cartel. For that, everyone should be pleased.