With the fallout from the Macondo well blowout and the subsequent oil spill billowing in the Gulf of Mexico, we’re seeing a major – and in my judgement unfortunate – blowback against the “Drill Baby Drill” push for more energy exploration which gripped the nation (and was largely ignored by the political class) in 2008. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida Governor Charlie Crist, a pair of “Republicans,” have come out against drilling off their shores, and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who has been a vociferous advocate of offshore drilling, is now beset by opponents and no longer in a position to agitate for exploration. And of course, news over the weekend that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has shut down all new drilling anywhere until “safety features” can be reviewed has essentially made all three governors irrelevant to the policy discussion anyway.
It looks like the wind is out of the sails of offshore production as a result of the BP spill in the Gulf.
So be it.
If the lesson of the BP spill is that drilling in 5,000 feet of water stretches the limits of current technology and represents risks to life, property and ecology that we won’t accept – a lesson of dubious veracity, but for the sake of argument here we’ll temporarily absorb it – then perhaps it’s time to take a look at the energy alternatives available to us. Conservatives have never been tied to oil as the only energy option; even in the days of “Drill Baby Drill” the conservative mantra has been to embrace an “all of the above” energy policy.
The problem is, those running things nowadays aren’t pulling offshore oil off the table and replacing it with a viable alternative. Wind and solar energy, the Obama administration’s pet sources, aren’t viable and won’t be until technology advances far beyond current levels.
At the end of the day, there are four sources of energy which can meet our needs. They’re the same four sources we’ve had for a long time – oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy. Nothing else can be brought to market in sufficient volumes and at sufficiently low cost to meet the expectations of the market.
America needs 7.3 billion barrels of oil per year to meet current needs. That need can be expected to rise – in fact, it will need to rise three to five percent per year for our economy to grow at a rate which will keep our federal government out of bankruptcy. Current domestic oil production is about 1.9 billion barrels a year.
As Deroy Murdock notes in National Review Online today, onshore oil reserves in the United States total about 21 billion barrels – with 86 billion barrels available offshore. There are continuing discussions about the 1.5 trillion barrels of potential oil in the oil shale fields of the Rockies, though current technology to extract transportation fuels from kerogen is not complete.
So without the continued development of offshore oil, we have two choices – and the first one is unacceptable. Namely, continuing to import larger and larger amounts of oil from countries who see us as an enemy. Eventually, the hundreds of billions of dollars per year we are shoveling to the Venezuelas and Saudi Arabias of the world will come home to us in the loss of American power and influence – and with that loss will come the defeat of freedom across the globe.
The other choice is to begin to replace oil as a transportation fuel.
Thankfully, we have the ability to do just that.
The Fischer-Tropsch process, invented in Germany in the 1920’s, allows for the conversion of coal into liquid transportation fuel – a large percentage of Nazi Germany’s tanks and planes in World War II ran on fuels made from coal. In fact, at $55-60 per barrel coal gasification is a profitable venture. It’s not done on a commercial scale in the United States, although in South Africa coal is converted into transportation fuels on a wide basis.
America has an enormous amount of coal. With oil currently trading above $85 per barrel, all that is required to introduce coal-based transportation fuels is encouragement by the federal government.
If you don’t like coal, natural gas can dominate the energy market for the time being. There is over a quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas available domestically thanks to shale plays like the Haynesville and Marcellus fields, which represents over a 50-year supply at current rates of usage. And it should be remembered that when it’s profitable to extract a resource and it’s explored for, reserves of that resource tend to grow rather than shrink. Natural gas is cheap, domestic, burns more cleanly than coal or oil and it’s reliable. It might just revolutionize the energy market worldwide. And it can be used for a transportation fuel quite easily.
To effectively use coal-based or natural gas-based transportation fuels, however, something must be done to ease the pressure on those resources as they relate to powering the nation’s electrical grid. And that’s where nuclear energy comes in.
The Obama administration has made a show of permitting a nuclear plant here and there, but it has clearly not engaged in support of nuclear energy. It has continued the misguided policy of refusing to reprocess spent nuclear fuels as the French and Japanese (who get most of their power grids from nuclear energy) do. It has stood against using the safe facility at Yucca Mountain to store spent fuel. It has done nothing to ease Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations which can put a proposed nuclear plant through a 15-year ringer from initiation to going online.
Given the stances articulated by the current administration and the realistic possibilities available, a major disconnect is apparent. The pursuit of energy alternatives outside of the major four sources is – at present – a waste of time and money. And a permanent abandonment of offshore oil drilling without a full effort to exploit the domestic alternatives merely serves to needlessly enrich our enemies at American expense.