Popular legend has it that while Rome burned, the Emperor Nero played the violin, revealing a lack of empathy for his empire and its people. Analogous to our current policy on energy exploration and production, the preoccupation with the trivial and irresponsible in the midst of crisis is the acme of foolishness.
We have or should have known for decades the folly of dependence upon foreign oil as our primary source of energy — we were served a wake-up call to that effect in the early 1970s and chose largely to ignore it, hoping it would go away. Those of us who remember the gas lines, the odd and even refueling days and the fear that the petroleum road had reached its terminus were mollified upon learning that once reaching a dollar a gallon, gasoline was once again plentiful.
The ensuing years have been marked by unconscionable inactivity, fostered by a combination of complacency and an overabundance of barriers erected by environmental activists, not in my back yard proponents, earth-first green worshipers and, more recently, global warming alarmists. Increasingly, our quest for energy independence is being held hostage by the likes of Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Committee Against Oil Exploration — organizations which, along with others, appear to place saving the “fragile” ecosystem and animals above that of the humans who also happen to inhabit the land.
Having spent my formative years involved in agriculture, hunting, fishing and related outdoor pursuits, I am aware of and believe in the importance of protecting the environment, conserving resources and maintaining habitat for wildlife. However, the cacophony generated by these organizations and their far left supporting cast over the possible demise of some obscure weed or flower, snail darter, spotted owl, tree rat or mushroom because of cultivation or exploration is beyond reason. The ecology is cyclical — species become extinct naturally. Had endangered species acts been enacted at the beginning of civilization, we would be up to our elbows in saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths.
The development of alternate energy sources is necessary — wind, solar power and other innovations are vital to our future. Nevertheless, the technology is not nearly advanced enough to replace or even ease our dependence on petroleum peculiar energy. There are avenues which, if allowed to go forward, would hasten our energy independence — namely, nuclear power, drilling in currently taboo areas and development of a process to recover an estimated 1.8 trillion barrels of oil from shale deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
Nuclear power is undeniably the most carbon free and efficient producer of electricity yet, because of fears for the environment and safety, the not-in-my-backyard-syndrome has blocked the building of any new facilities in the U.S. since 1979. Actually, nuclear power boasts an enviable safety record and the waste is recyclable. For example, 75 percent of France’s electricity is generated by nuclear power with no hint of disaster.
We have the resources to become energy independent; however, we have dragged our collective feet for too long. The technology is also available to avoid desecration of “pristine” land and sea areas in drilling for oil. A nation that can mobilize to produce and deliver the wherewithal to save the world from tyranny in the 1940s and land a man on the moon can surely harness the oil, shale, coal and natural gas deposits that are available.
Energy independence requires the cooperation of all three branches of federal government, the governments of the states involved and that of the political parties — a process which is at least 10 years behind. Environmental issues must be resolved by reason and logic — the real or imagined ecological damage weighed against the very economics and habitability needed for our survival as a nation.
Neither reason nor logic were in evidence in the May 21 Judiciary Committee hearing at which senators lined up to pummel and bully the executives of five major oil companies over “windfall” profits. More intent on self righteous and pompous grandstanding for their constituents, they ignored conveniently that Congress has been the principal obstruction for petroleum exploration.
It is a bit late to haggle over “Who shot John” — it is time to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the offshore Atlantic and Pacific areas and the Green River shale region for exploration, while also going forward with new construction for nuclear power. If we can present a united front indicating the U.S. is serious about energy independence, the world price of oil will come down.
Karl Miller of Columbia retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. E-mail him at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.