Energy & Environment

America's IMBY era for energy

Last week during a speech at the University of Miami, President Obama called for an “all-of-the-above energy strategy that develops every available source of American energy.” The plea in itself was far from surprising – the president himself made it during his most recent State of the Union address and members of both houses of Congress have been citing a variant of this for some time now as a way for the country to finally take control of its energy future.
 
The surprising part was that this message came from a president who has done so much to hamstring U.S. energy development. Take the development of natural gas, which the president used as evidence that “we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.” U.S.-based innovation has opened vast reserves of shale gas deposits. More than 200,000 jobs have been created over the last several years as part of efforts to extract natural gas from massive shale formations.

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Comprehensive approach is the only way to control gas prices

With gas prices climbing and many experts predicting that U.S. gas prices will peak as high as five dollars a gallon this summer, public voices are rising as well, asking how we can bring prices down and avoid straining our still-recovering economy. Still, with so many factors impacting the price we see at the pump, our focus must go beyond any short-term fix, and focus on how we can finally relieve ourselves of the ongoing burden of our nation’s petroleum addiction.

We know that gasoline prices are cyclical, typically increasing during the summer; it was in the summer of 2008 that we saw our previous average high price for gas, at $4.11 a gallon.

However, this summer’s prices also reflect - once again - ongoing tensions in the Middle East. While sanctions against Iran have slightly reduced oil supplies, more general fears of how tensions in the region will affect future oil shipments are having a greater impact on oil prices overall. With one fifth of the world’s oil supply transiting the Strait of Hormuz - a flow of roughly 17 million barrels a day - Iranian threats to blockade the Strait, along with fears of the effects of an Israeli attack on Iran, are leading to efforts to stockpile crude, driving up prices.

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Fiddlers, foreign oil and failed policy

One-fifth of the world's oil supply travels through the vital Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East.

Iran recently threatened to blockade the Strait and choke off crude oil shipments from Middle East suppliers. Punctuated with a 10-day naval exercise, Iran clearly intends to hamper, obfuscate and pester the West and its Arab allies even if not actually able to sever this vital artery of the world's economy.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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