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Is a Rational Energy Policy Ahead?
Commentary on the News
Monday, January 30, 2012
Ed DeShields

Is the president finally on-target with a sane American energy policy?  Or is he having an election-year epiphany fearing his historic alignment with the Sierra Club won’t get him elected?

At first blush, you’d think the president had changed parties after listening to his recent State of the Union Address. 

The president said:

“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use.  America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

Isn’t that what Rick Perry was saying?  The president:

“Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right – eight years. Not only that – last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years.”

Not exactly Mr. President, but you’re starting to sound a little like a Republican. 

What’s up?

Is it because oil is steadily rising and it’s choking off growth in the economy?  In 2008, the average price of oil was about $60 per barrel.  In 2009, it hit $80+.  In the last two years it rose to $90 and $100 sending billions of dollars outside the U.S. and quietly raising the cost of everything (even though “core inflation” as you measure it ignores oil hikes).

At the same time natural gas dropped from $14.00 Mcf to $2.50 because we discovered we have plenty of it here at home.

In what the EPA is referring to as an “environmental justice” policy of the Federal Government, the environmental lobby has a renewed determination to stop all carbon-based energy consumption by regulating the industry into extinction.  Specifically, they hope that recent successes in forcing the closure of coal-fired electric plants -- and stopping the ones slated to come online -- will tilt energy policy their way.

And, they may be winning.

For example, FirstEnergy Corporation announced on Thursday it is retiring six coal-fired power plants, including four in Ohio, because of stricter federal anti-pollution rules lobbied for by the environmental lobby.  The closings were triggered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS), which were finalized December 21st.

Additionally, Columbus-based American Electric Power has already said it intends to close all or part of 11 power plants and eliminate 600 jobs because of the new federal rules. That includes three Ohio power plants.  Six older and dirtier plants will be closed during 2012.

Normally this would be an unique opportunity to convert these utilities to cleaner burning natural gas – especially since Ohio, along with the rest of America, seems to be sitting on decades of new unconventional shale gas reserves. 

But true-to-form, the environmental movement’s new target is to eliminate “fracking” technology that unlocks trapped gas reserves previously not recoverable with older technologies.  

Lets get practical.  Shale gas will account for 70 percent of our natural gas supply by 2035.  Hydraulic fracturing is so important that without it, we would lose 45 percent of domestic natural gas production and 17 percent of our oil production within five years.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson admitted before Congress that there is currently no evidence hydraulic fracturing has affected water supplies.

If any official in the federal government would have polluting evidence, Jackson would know.  She would also know if injecting a mixture that's 99.5 percent water and sand into subterranean rock to free trapped natural gas and oil was tainting water.

Yet, the EPA has been forced to complete a detailed study on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. This study will likely replace what they say is “a badly flawed, industry-dominated literature review issued in 2004” which failed to seriously assess these risks.

US primary energy consumption by fuelRemember this; shale gas lies about 2 miles below the drinking water.  Two miles of solid rock separate drinking water from natural gas in the geological formation.

Encouragingly, EPA's Science Advisory Board has recommended that EPA take a holistic, life-cycle approach to the new study.

Increased domestic oil and natural gas production is great news.  Going forward, let’s build on the sound decisions and investments in today’s production technologies in practical energy supplies here at home while protecting the environment.

We can start by opening access to areas currently off-limits to development – in Alaska, the outer continental shelf and the West, where leased federal acreage has fallen steadily since 2008. With the right access policies, the oil and natural gas industry could create more jobs, more oil and natural gas and more revenue for government. 

By 2026, the United States could see 100 percent of its liquid fuel needs supplied domestically and from Canada.

That could prove to be a rational energy policy that will get the economy going while cleaning up environment.

About Ed DeShields

Last article: Why You Should Retire Early 

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