Drill, Baby, Drill
That phrase was made famous by failed 2008 GOP Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The idea was to revive a moribund US economy and end dependency on foreign oil by dramatically increasing domestic production of oil and natural gas. Calls for this have expanded in recent months to not only decrease US dependency on foreign oil, but to actually export oil and natural gas to decrease dependence on Russian fuels by its European neighbors. Events in Ukraine have seemingly lent themselves to furthering this view in the eyes of many – particularly on the political right, but including some Democrats as well. This is a false argument, as replacement of Russian fuel with North American fuel obviously takes way too long to stave off another situation like Ukraine. Energy independence would be preferable to most in any case.
In recent years, domestic production of oil and natural gas have expanded dramatically with increased use of the technique known as hydraulic fracturing (better known as “fracking”). The method involves pumping large amounts of water combined with other chemicals (Some highly toxic) to force the gas out of shale. The technique has become economically more feasible as the price of oil and natural gas has risen and the supply of more easily attainable and cheaper to produce fuels has declined.
The Obama Administration has sent mixed signals as to its energy policy. On the one hand, it has emphasized more reliance on developing more widespread use of alternatives to the use of fossil fuels – such as renewable energy sources including solar, wind and others that do not pollute the air as much or produce greenhouse gases responsible for global climate change. Rather than placing more emphasis on energy conservation and devoting more resources to developing these cleaner energy sources, climate-change deniers (including most of the Republicans in Congress) are calling for an all out effort to increase production of these fuels more cheaply as long as we know the reserves exist for their continued use for years to come. Investment in the others is money wasted at this time, in their view.
By establishing stricter fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles and encouraging other means of energy conservation, as well as more strictly regulating some emissions from power plants, some effort has been made to start controlling greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. However, the ambiguous stance of the Administration with regard to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline to move oil sands from Canada to Texas for refining and export abroad lead many to question just how dedicated the American government is to trying to ameliorate the effects of our industry and commerce on global climate change. The willingness of many state governments to allow weak regulation of the industry within their borders in exchange for a perceived economic benefit makes the situation worse.
Pipeline spills, as well as train derailments and truck crashes, have in recent months resulted in dramatic illustrations of our frequent failure to eliminate risks involved in transporting highly flammable and often explosive materials from place to place without disastrous events affecting whole communities and vast areas of land. The increase of these activities has led to more frequent tragic results. Despite industry assurances that fracking is safe and that the extraction methods employ adequate safeguards to protect the air, water and land surrounding the drilling sites, incidents which contradict this opinion abound. Often, tax incentives are used to encourage maximum output – despite the additional wear and tear on roads and waterways necessitated by the activity. Pennsylvania, for example, has not been getting nearly enough from the companies drilling for natural gas here to pay for the environmental degradation caused by the activity and the affects it has had on water supplies, air quality and roads. The fact that these companies seek to keep secret exactly what they are injecting into the ground does little to allay the fears of those who still must drink the water. Recent events in West Virginia come to mind in this regard.
The all of the above energy policy which seems so popular in Washington these days does little to assuage the fears of environmentalists that our future as a nation with breathable air, drinkable water and productive land is being sold down the river to provide some relatively temporary jobs in selected areas of the nation and injecting some cash into a floundering economy on an equally temporary basis. In return, a few companies experience windfall profits producing fuels that will primarily benefit folks in foreign lands and do little to lower the price of fuel here. Has the price of heating oil, natural gas or gasoline put extra money in your wallet lately? We get the added benefit of an even more scarred landscape and decimated ecology. We don’t have enough waste material from nuclear and coal fired power plants that we don’t know what to do with, we need to add even more insult to the injury we visit upon the planet with fracking wastes.
Mainstream media, for their part, always eager for the advertising revenues that the major oil and gas corporations are willingly spending in abundance to further their cause, continue to blissfully inform the American public with how cheap, easy and safe their products are and how they can continue to allow our economy to thrive again indefinitely. All we need to do is let them continue doing as they are doing without additional regulations that would cut into their profits by requiring additional measures to ensure our health and safety. The so-called cable news channels are some of the worst when it comes to their use of petroleum dollars to fund their broadcasts. Their impartiality on these matters is questionable at best.
Identifying the reasons why it is so easy for many to buy into the idea that more of the same with regard to energy will get us out of our economic doldrums and re-establish the US as a key exporter of a valued commodity is not difficult. Combatting it with reason and an approach which will better serve all of mankind for the long-term rather than the short-term profits of a select few seems to be much more elusive. Difficult decisions need to be made in the short term to safeguard our energy and climate future. Succumbing to the big money interests of the fossil fuel industry as many seem to want now is the wrong way to go. Climate change science is no longer debatable. Only the response to the effects of our past, current and future actions in light of it remains uncertain.
The US needs to redouble efforts aimed at reducing usage of fossil fuels, regardless of where they come from. Investment in renewable, less polluting green energy sources must replace the century-old subsidies and tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry which have established and maintained our dependence on their products for this long. Stop throwing bad money after good and spend it on developing a sustainable economy and a healthy environment that we can all live with for centuries to come.
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