Solving the energy crisis needs to go beyond conservation

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 2:41 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

The issue of affordable, dependable energy haunts the American public inasmuch as fuel or energy costs affect the economy in both short-term and future projections. The proposed solutions to provide a sustainable energy policy are varied, but can be lumped into three fundamental categories — conservation; drilling/mining/exploration for petroleum; and conversion to renewable or "green" energy.

All three not only have merit, but also are integral in the final order of things. Nevertheless, not one of them can stand alone as the panacea for our energy ills or deficiencies. Perhaps by some miracle the drillers, conservationists and environmentalists can find common ground. But for now, there is little promise on the horizon for optimism, as none appear willing to give ground. Meanwhile, we are held hostage in this turf war.

Conservation is important, particularly to those of us who have had to do with less, or without — the depression and World War II rationing come to mind. But conservation was devalued during the booming times of plenty when it appeared there was no end to our resources. While conservation has again become a worthy subject, it is not a solution. Lowering speed limits, maintaining proper tire pressure, car pooling, increasing mass transit, et al. will only delay the inevitable.

The proponents of mining, drilling and exploration face strong opposition from others, particularly from the environmental "greens" who are vocal and litigious to a fault. While making better use of the resources available — such as coal and gas, coupled with exploration both offshore and on land — is not the ultimate answer. Both history and geology mark them as better alternatives for the short and long term while renewables are developed.

In addition to the vast amounts of coal, natural gas and crude oil, there is an estimated 2 trillion barrels of shale oil in the Green River region of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The current price of oil, plus improved technologies, has made the extraction and processing of both coal and shale oil not only feasible, but also economically sound. For example, geologists estimate that if but half of the Green River shale can be extracted, it nearly triples the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.

We have both the resources and the technology to solve the energy dilemma, along with buying time to develop energy from alternate sources. Those critics who attack the petroleum industry as greedy, profiteering, pollution-producing, dishonest brokers, or who moan that it is too late and too environmentally destructive to process these resources are short of memory and faith in American ingenuity.

Had we moved on these projects in 1995, the argument would be moot. And for those who doubt our ability to recover, a nation that can transform itself from isolationist to the industrial, material and munitions savior of the civilized world in the 1940s; land a man on the moon in 1969; and stand as the world's most powerful and compassionate country can certainly accomplish what needs to be done energy-wise in record time.

The need for alternative energy sources and exploration is unquestioned — wind and solar power are both ripe for exploitation. Unfortunately, the anything-but-carbon "green" crowd fronts a familiar obstacle known to all as the NIMBY or "not-in-my-back-yard" syndrome. The "NIMBYs" are on board but, only if construction is done elsewhere. They raise their ugly heads off Cape Cod as the rich and famous bemoan the unsightly windmills; in Indiana, California, Oregon and Arizona litigating against connecting transmission lines and right of ways; and with lawsuits to protect the habitat of birds and other wildlife in various states.

The "anywhere-but-here" attitude is likewise the major roadblock to nuclear power, which by the way, is the most environmentally clean of all energy sources. The gist of the opposition to nuclear plants is twofold — disposal of radioactive waste and the perils of possible meltdowns. Neither is particularly germane — the waste can be reprocessed, and there are more than 150 nuclear-powered ships afloat, boasting 12,000 reactor years of safe operation.

Accordingly, it is abundantly clear that there is room in the equation for conservation, alternative energy and oil. It is also obvious that some heads need to be banged together to achieve common sense for a common purpose. That is our task — we have the ballot.

J Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at


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