Peter Thiel, a tech billionaire and confidante to President Donald Trump, said something you don’t often hear from Silicon Valley moguls: hydraulic fracturing did more for progress than the tech boom.
“What’s very striking is that on some level I think fracking represents a bigger economic form of progress for our society as a whole than the innovation in Silicon Valley,” Thiel told author and energy expert Daniel Yergin during a 45-minute interview at the CERAWeek conference in Houston.
The U.S. fracking boom added 233,000 jobs to the oil and gas sector from 2009 to 2014 when abundant North American crude and OPEC’s refusal to cut production sent prices plunging. The oil and gas industry shed about 100,000 jobs during the downturn.
Oil and gas production, on the other hand, remained relatively high through 2015, hitting a record 9.7 million barrels per day in April of that year. Production has come down somewhat since, but is expected to increase as crude prices climb.
The fracking boom spurred infrastructure upgrades in rural America, and drillers built up tons of data on U.S. geology and the drilling process that’s made fracking much more efficient. All of those activities keep energy prices low.
While oil may be booming, Silicon Valley is too, greatly increasing commute times and housing prices.
Thiel’s point is probably more subtle, suggesting fracking laid the foundations for sustained economic growth throughout the country, rather than the gadgets coming out of Silicon Valley.
He’s not trying to say we should ignore the massive gains of the tech sector — indeed, oil and gas development rely increasingly on good data and computer programs.