Energy & Environment

Leaving behind the age of oil

Those that tell you that we can drill our way to $2-a-gallon gas are selling fool’s gold.
Nationwide, our gas use has consistently gone down over the past couple of years. At the same time, our domestic production is at the highest level it has been in eight years, with the number of rigs in U.S. oil fields quadrupling in the past three years alone. It has even gotten to the point where American refineries have begun to export their fuel abroad - in 2010, we exported 2.3 million barrels of crude oil a day - and our use of foreign oil is at a 16-year low. If the drilling proponents are correct, then our gas prices should be at their lowest. But, with some analysts predicting that gas prices will hit $5 a gallon this summer, this clearly is not the case.


Exporting natural gas will be good for America

American consumers and businesses are currently reaping a windfall from the lowest natural gas prices in years. Cheap gas has reduced heating and electric bills for millions of households, while industries using natural gas as a feedstock or boiler fuel have realized huge production cost savings. But at the same time $2.50 gas at the wellhead has caused many drilling companies to reduce production and move their rigs to more profitable oil plays.   Simply put, the current price for natural gas is too low to sustain the pace of drilling and production that has occurred in recent years.

As with all commodities, the price of natural gas is determined by supply and demand. Today the supply is abundant, a consequence of the shale gas revolution, while demand is muted due to a sluggish economy and relatively mild winter. Because of America’s large and growing reserves of natural gas, potential supply will exceed anticipated domestic demand for many years to come.


Drilling is not the answer

Just one day after a drilling well explosion on Alaska’s North Slope, the House of Representatives voted to open 1.5 million acres of the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Unable to find enough votes to pass drilling measures as part of a comprehensive transportation bill, House leadership has resorted to political gimmicks to further the agenda of Big Oil.
The Refuge is home to the greatest diversity of animals of any protected area in the entire circumpolar region, including polar bears, caribou and birds from every state. For the past 50 years our country has remained committed to protecting this unparalleled area. Its wonders have been recognized for centuries by Alaska Natives like the Gwich’in and Inupiat people who still rely on its wildlife for survival.
Opening this special area to drilling is a huge risk for highly speculative and insufficient revenues. To understand what’s at stake you need only look as far as Prudhoe Bay, where less than 100 miles west of the Arctic Refuge drilling has created one of the world’s largest industrial complexes. Hundreds of spills occur in the area each year polluting waterways, damaging the land and harming wildlife. A similar fate awaits the Refuge if this bill is made into law—all to generate revenue that will come too late to fund this bill and won’t be enough to fill the funding gap.


Standing with New Mexicans

The surge of massive forest fires has been too common in the West in recent years. Mismanaged, overgrown forests have contributed to the spread of wildfires. Otero County has taken a stand against irresponsible forest management in their county. Officials have worked to give their residents safer communities and healthier forests. They said that “enough is enough” when it comes to the federal government’s mismanagement of the forest around Cloudcroft.

In June, the Otero County Commission voted to create an emergency plan, allowing the county to begin thinning the forest for fire prevention. They created an 80,000-acre plan, which they submitted to USFS, that calls for responsible management to protect local watershed and prevent fires that have threatened Cloudcroft for many years. This level of forest management is exactly what the Otero County Commission was trying to accomplish with the emergency tree cutting on September 17th near Cloudcroft.


EPA's fracking, Keystone intervention snubs science

Dramatics on Capitol Hill is nothing new or unexpected. But last week’s spectacle - in which Capitol Police arrested filmmaker Josh Fox for unlawful entry after disrupting a House Science Committee hearing - pans the camera on a very troublesome reality. It epitomizes the empty, theatrical tactics environmental groups are using to subvert legitimate dialogues over our energy future and the best interests of the American public.

Throughout the country, the “green” lobby is manipulating legalities, rhetoric, and melodrama to sideline science in pursuit of a political agenda. Take for example the Environmental Protection Agency’s contentious inquiry into possible ground water contamination in a small Wyoming town, which - despite holes in its own reporting and the fact that “fracking” has been used to safely develop wells since the late 1940s - has ignited a new debate in the baseless campaign against natural gas.


Keystone: the pipeline to higher gas prices

The fight over the Keystone Pipeline began in earnest last spring, when James Hansen at NASA pointed out that heavily tapping the Canadian tarsands would mean it was “essentially game over” for the climate. Since planetary destruction is what even the dimmest analyst might describe as a less than optimal policy outcome, the oil industry and its allies in Congress have since done everything they can think of to change the subject.

First the pipeline became a jobs project - until the one study not funded by Transcanada showed it might kill as many jobs as it would create. Now even the pipeline company says permanent employees will number “in the hundreds.”

Next it became an energy security issue - until a look at refinery contracts made clear the oil was to be refined and shipped overseas.

Let me predict the next talking point right now: with gas prices rising, the pipeline will let Americans fill up for less.


Nuclear power will propel U.S. forward

The last time a nuclear reactor was approved, the year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was president, the Bee Gees dominated the Billboard Top 100, Animal House debuted at the top of the box office, and a gallon of gas cost 63 cents. A new generation of reactors is long overdue.

On Wednesday, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu toured Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, the first U.S. plant to win approval for the construction of nuclear reactors in more than three decades.

This is the first step towards what Republicans and many Democrats alike hope will mark the reemergence of nuclear power as a viable energy source. A majority of Americans agree. A 2011 national survey found that 71 percent of the public favors nuclear energy as one way to generate electricity. Eighty-four percent believe nuclear energy will play an important role in meeting U.S. electricity needs in the future.


Don't raise taxes on American wind power

Despite the recent improvement in U.S. unemployment figures, it is clear that the thing Americans care about most right now is creating jobs and getting our economy rolling again.

Luckily, there is a way that lawmakers in Congress can do that right now. They need look no further than the wind turbines that dot our landscape in Illinois and all across the windy heartland to recognize that we can create jobs and encourage private investment by fostering stable tax policies in one of our economy’s few bright spots: wind energy.

In fact, one of the best ways of unlocking private capital, creating manufacturing jobs and putting Americans back to work is an extension to the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind. It’s a common sense solution to our shared economic and energy challenges, and one our representatives in Congress should support.


Price at the pump

On a recent campaign swing through Orange County, Calif., the heartland of Republican politics, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich talked openly about $2-a-gallon gas prices at the pump. I don't know which planet the former Speaker of the House is living on, but local gas prices are more than twice this amount now.  

Sometimes it pays to be reflective. Twelve years ago, I wrote a piece for the Orange County Register urging then-presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush to name their running mates weeks before the 2000 Democratic and Republican nominating conventions.

"Energy Secretary Bill Richardson or HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo look good on paper, but they can't help Gore win in November," I wrote. "Imagine having to defend Richardson if gas prices still are hovering around $2 a gallon this fall."


How to cut climate change in half

What will it take to get the U.S. to take climate change seriously? Climate change threatens the world with powerful and potentially very costly impacts, such as increasingly severe droughts and floods, the die-off of forests and damage to agriculture, as well as rising sea levels.  The U.S. is not exempt from these impacts.
The answer is that the U.S. can make progress even in a dysfunctional political climate, by focusing on reducing two local air pollutants, black carbon (soot) and ground-level ozone, alongwith hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), man-made chemicals used in refrigerators, air conditioners, and insulating foams. Indeed, recent science shows the U.S., with Mexico and other willing nations, can help lead a global effort to reduce these three warming agents and thereby cut the rate of global warming in half for the next three or four decades.