Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why We Need More Oil Production

Russia is holding Ukraine hostage to energy blackmail. All of Europe is ultimately threatened by this, and the US has lessons to learn from this. Russia cut off all gas via Ukraine to Europe last week. The EU, which gets a fifth of all its gas supplies via that route, has found itself playing arbiter in a bitter power-play between two ex-Soviet states still acting out a separation. (Reuters) "Energy independence" is something every American can agree on, but just how we achieve it provides a point of disagreement. One camp wants to expand our domestic oil drilling and/or build new nuclear power plants, while the other major camp prefers to abandon petroleum and focus on "alternative" energy sources such as wind, solar, and so on. What the latter camp just doesn't seem to understand is this: It will take decades to bring wind, solar and other alternative sources to a point where they can efficiently replace so-called fossil fuels. With our own off-shore oil available sooner, complimented by shale oil from our friend Canada, we have the opportunity to increase our own petroleum availability and thereby reduce our dependence on unstable, unfriendly nations such as Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC. There is nothing short of war that would prevent OPEC from blackmailing the US, in the way Russia is now blackmailing Ukraine, if they wanted to. While we probably cannot become completely independent of other nations for oil in the near future, we can at least reduce the damage that a blackmail action would cause. And, yes, conservation and wiser use of resources is something we should include in the whole equation. To try to replace fossil fuels with alternatives too quickly would be counterproductive. Think of it this way: When the very first trains were being built, the materials for the trains and the factories that made them were transported by horses and wagons. Suppose that there had been an anti-horse movement back then. Suppose that those in that movement said, "Look, we must abandon horses as a source of power because they crap everywhere, causing a stink and increasing the possibility of disease being spread. Furthermore, the horses eat grains that could be used for human consumption." Had such a movement been successful, how would the heavy materials been transported to build the trains? How would be have successfully replaced horse-drawn wagons with the next phase of transportation? We face a similar question today: How can we build solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars and other alternative energy devices if we stop using petroleum as a power source? Not only that, but a lot of the components of those devices are made of plastic and other petroleum products. Petroleum powers the vehicles that haul the parts to make the factories that make those devices. The factories are powered by petroleum. The devices are then transported to market by petroleum powered vehicles. To completely abandon petroleum too soon would be, if you'll pardon my expression, putting the cart before the horse. Ironically, we must increase our domestic drilling for petroleum and production of petroleum products in the short term in order to successfully take us to the next phase. History repeats itself metaphorically. Fossil fuels, whether coal, natural gas or petroleum, are what will make it possible for us to one day abandon those resources as primary sources of energy. Let us make maximum use of it now, while we still have it, to evolve to a higher state of energy production and usage. Subscribe to Chicago News Bench