In ''The Godfather II,'' Hyman Roth whispers to Michael Corleone, ''Michael, we're bigger than U.S. Steel.''
Pretty soon residents in Trumbull and Mahoning counties will be able to lean toward their lunch partners and say, ''We're bigger than Saudi Arabia.''
The difference is that here in the Mahoning Valley, our business will be legitimate.
The U.S. Energy Department released spectacular news last week. The United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest producer of oil.
The ability to use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to tap into shale rock thousands of feet below the ground, is turning the U.S. into one of the world's leading energy producers. Still untapped are vast reserves projected in the Utica Shale beneath the surface in eastern Ohio. The Utica is expected to be rich in oil and wet gas whereas other shale formations, such as the nearby Marcellus Shale, are rich in natural gas.
Production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day nationwide. This will be the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.
The boom has surprised even the shale optimists.
''Five years ago, if I or anyone had predicted today's production growth, people would have thought we were crazy,'' said Jim Burkhard, head of oil markets research at IHS CERA, an energy consulting firm.
The Energy Department forecasts that U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons will average 11.4 million barrels per day next year, just below Saudi Arabia's 11.5 million barrels. Citibank forecasts that U.S. production could reach 13 million to 15 million barrels per day by 2020, helping to make North America ''the new Middle East.''
The job opportunities, financial independence, ability to afford health care and higher education, are among the many benefits that could soon grace the Mahoning Valley.
This should help put environmental concerns over fracking into perspective. The largest concern is possible contamination of well water for residents near drilling operations. In the Mahoning Valley, most wells have been contaminated or unreliable for decades, and those that are functioning adequately won't forever. Those concerned about contamination should focus on using the economic prosperity to deliver tap water to those served by wells.
Bigger than Saudi Arabia. Energy independence. It's becoming reality.