A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
Our energy policy in America today is dysfunctional. And the reason it is dysfunctional is that Congressional (and Presidential) leaders are unwilling to portray realities to the American people such that we can forge a cohesive way forward. They clammer and clang about being "energy independent" and "bringing relief to the pump", as if their empty rhetoric could make it so. I believe both candidates, but in particular John McCain, missed an enormous opportunity by not making this a key component of the campaign.
Reality Number One: While we absoluely need to explore alternative energy sources (especially nuclear), there is no reason to believe that ANY alternative to fossil fuels is going to have a measurable impact for at least fifteen years. So while we pursue alternatives, we also need to pursue every drop of oil and every cubic foot of natural gas we can.
Reality Number Two: We would want to fully exploit our fossil fuel alterantives even if we were farther down the road with alternatives than we are. As fragile as our economy is right now do you want it to be MORE or LESS dependent on the likes of Iranian President Ahmadinejad.
Readers of this column know that I love northern Michgian. Lake Michigan, the Au Sable River, the Leelanau Penninsula, Tahquamenon Falls - all have their claim on me. I have written of her land, shore and water many times, and to the extent my heart can reside in a physical place, it does so there.
I came to love northern Michigan when I lived there for nearly five years. I worked for Amoco Production Company and spent many months as a roustabout working in the "oil patch". And a result of working there is that I learned exploration for and production of oil and natural gas can co-exist comfortably with the environment. I remember walking in the woods with some out of town visitors and telling them we were within one hundred yards of a producing oil well. As they considered the dense forest and beautiful greenery, they simply did not believe me. But a short walk down a trail revealed the truth, for the forests and fields of northern Michigan, topography that Melville would have described as "loveliness unfathomable", are replete with well-heads and pump jacks inexorably pulling energy out of the earth.
While it is certainly true that the drilling phase is messy, sites can are restored to a level of pristine cleanliness that is all but pre-production, with only some trees cleared to make room for the well head equipment. That was the case thirty years ago, and with the technological advancement that has occured since then, the energy companies can look for and produce this bounty with even less impact on the environment. It is simply no longer credible to suggest that the exploration for and production of oil and natural gas is a significant environmental threat. Yet many still cling to this tired and long debunked argument.
Well - Alaska's ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) is currently sitting atop staggering reserves of natural gas and oil. Estimates peg the amounts as fifteen BILLION barrels of oil and nine TRILLION cubic feet of gas. And the estimates of reserves that exist off-shore are far greater than even these numbers.
It is time to unfetter our energy companies and send the unequivocal signal to them that it is time to go and get it. And it is time to realize that such a decision can be taken without trashing our responsibility to the environment.
And the only group of people keeping us from doing exactly that is the United States Congress.