With the new year, we are starting a new article series here at The Futurist. The theme will be a recognition of exceptional innovation. Candidates can be any industry, corporation, or individual that has created an innovation exemplifying the very best of technological disruption. The more ATOM principles exhibited in an innovation (rising living standards, deflation acting in proportion to prior inflation in the incumbent industry, rapid continuous technological improvement, etc.), the greater the chance of qualification.
The inaugural winner of the ATOM Award of the Month is the US hydraulic fracturing industry. While 'fracking' garnered the most news in 2011-13, the rapid technological improvements continued. Natural gas continues to hover around just $3, making the US one of the most competitive countries in industries where natural gas is a large input. Oil prices continue to fall due to ever-improving efficiencies, and from the chart, we can see how many of the largest fields have seen breakevens fall from $80 to under $40 in just the brief 2013-16 period. This is of profound importance, because now even $50 is a profitable price for US shale oil. There is no indication that this trend of lower breakeven prices has stopped. Keep in mind that the massive shale formations in California are not even being accessed yet due to radical obstruction, but a breakeven of $30 or lower ensure the pressure to extract this profit from the Monterrey shale continues to rise. Beyond that, Canada has not yet begun fracking of its own, and when it does, it will certainly have at least as much additional oil as the US found.
This increase, which is just an extra 3M barrels/day to US supply, was nonetheless enough to capsize this highly elastic market and crash world oil prices from $100+ to about $50. Given the improving breakevens, and possibility of new production, this will continue to pressure oil prices for the foreseeable future. This has led to the US turning the tables on OPEC and reversing a large trade deficit into what is now a surplus. If you told any of those 'peak oil' Malthusians that the US would soon have a trade surplus with OPEC, they would have branded you as a lunatic. Note how that ill-informed Maoist-Malthusian cult utterly vanished. Furthermore, this plunge in oil prices has strengthened the economies of other countries that import most of their oil, from Japan to India.
Under ATOM principles, technology always finds a way to lower the cost of something that has become artificially expensive and is hence obstructing the advancement of other technologies. Oil was a premier example of this, as almost all technological innovation is done in countries that have to import large portions of their oil, while almost none is done by oil exporters. Excess wealth accumulation by oil exporters was an anti-technology impediment, and demanded the attention of a good portion of the ATOM. Remember that the worldwide ATOM is of an ever rising size, and comprises of the sum total of all technological products in production at a given time (currently, about 2% of world GDP). Hence, all technological disruptions are interconnected, and when the ATOM is freed up from the completion of a certain disruption, that amount of disruptive capacity becomes available to tackle something new. Given the size of this disruption to oil prices and production geography, this occupied a large portion of the ATOM for a few years, which means a lot of ATOM capacity is now free to act elsewhere.
This disruption was also one of the most famous predictions of mine here at The Futurist. In 2011, I predicted that high oil prices was effectively a form of burning a candle at both ends and such prices were jolting at least six compensating technologies into overdrive. I provided an equation predicting when oil would topple, and it toppled well in accordance with that prediction (even sooner than the equation estimated).
This concludes our very first ATOM AotM to kick off the new year. I need candidate submissions from readers in order to get a good pool to select from. Criteria include the size and scope of the disruption, how anti-technology the disrupted incumbent was, and an obvious improvement in the quality of a large number of lives through this disruption.