Drill, Baby, Drill!

While President Obama is starting to sound a bit like Sarah Palin in softening his stand on off-shore drilling and the Republicans are screaming “not enough!!” we begin to realize that another election year is upon us. But there seems to be more to this debate than merely higher prices of gasoline at the pumps that have gotten the American public in an uproar and the politicians quick to point fingers at one another. It would appear that we are much more solvent when it comes to energy supplies than we have been led to believe and are even discussing ways to radically change the way we do energy business — from one of the world’s largest importers of foreign oil to a major exporter of domestic oil, natural gas, and coal.

At the center of this controversy is the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast that Obama has given qualified approval to — amid the din from the Republican camp that this is a political ploy to stall for time and appease voters. I sincerely hope so, because of dire predictions such as the following: “A rupture in the Keystone XL pipeline could cause a BP style oil spill in America’s heartland, over the source of fresh drinking water for 2 million people. NASA’s top climate scientist says that fully developing the tar sands in Canada would mean ‘essentially game over’ for the climate.”

Though we already export tons of coal to China  and companies such as Enbridge and Transcanada are busy building natural gas lines to the West coast in order to export more natural gas, the exportation of crude oil to Central America and the East will further alter America’s energy policies. One would think we would want to keep the energy at home as that could lower energy prices here and reduce our dependence on OPEC, just as our national policies have urged us to do for four decades. On occasion, in fact, increased energy independence has been spoken of as a matter of national security. As one on-line source reports, “Reducing demand for oil is the best way to improve our energy security. U.S. demand for oil has been declining since 2007.  New fuel-efficiency standards mean that this trend will continue once the economy gets back on track.” In a word, at a time when we could increase our energy independence, the energy developers in this country are reducing it (and increasing our energy costs) by exporting much of our surplus energy. In doing so, of course, they increase their own profits — which is their only real concern.

As an editorial in the Great Falls Tribune by Professor Emeritus Tom Power of the University of Montana recently pointed out, “Although it is always dangerous to use present trends to forecast the future, the United States appears to be on the verge of shifting its energy demand-supply balance from being the world’s largest energy importer to being one of the world’s more significant energy exporters. . .The justification for this, of course, is that it will create relatively high paid jobs in the United States and help us reduce our trade deficit with the rest of the world. We will export raw materials to the rest of the world and import the goods they manufacture.”  The change in policy, as noted, is to help pay off some of the huge debt we owe to nations such as India and, especially, China. But this comes at the price of increased costs of energy at home while the energy producers watch their profits grow. As Professor Power notes, “Our energy companies seek to kill two domestic energy birds with one stone while increasing their profits.” What a deal!

In any event, this change in US policy flies in the face of the fact that our own clean energy industry is struggling. The US government has been reluctant to get behind that industry (which cannot possibly compete with the major oil companies in political spending) though it threw them a bone recently by imposing tariffs on the import of clean energy technology from China (yes, China), because that country was dumping such things as solar panels in this country at prices we could not match. But this didn’t save such companies as Evergreen Solar which went belly up before the tariffs were imposed. Too little too late.

So, in the end, we have voters worried about increasing energy costs at a time when they should be declining. Meanwhile, at the urging of the energy companies our government shifts its dirty energy policy from import to export and simultaneously continues to discourage America’s clean energy industry, keeping as many as 40,000 jobs hanging in suspense in that industry while insisting upon the Keystone pipeline in order to create an estimated 20,000 jobs.

If I were Alice I would be convinced I was in Wonderland.

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