The Columbia Missourian (July 8) contained a letter from the director of a special-interest group that serves the oil industry, which extols the virtues of a proposed pipeline that would supply petroleum from “Canadian oil sands” to the U.S.
The letter claims such benefits as “jobs,” “clean energy” and “energy independence,” but nowhere does it acknowledge the controversial method by which the petroleum is extracted from the earth.
As the earth’s supply of oil dwindles, oil companies have resorted to sources that are increasingly more difficult to access, such as oil that is embedded in shale or sand.
The oil and natural gas contained in these materials are released by the high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water and tons of chemicals, many harmful to humans, in a process known as fracking.
Not only is this process used in Canada, it is used in parts of the U.S. Oil and natural gas companies have embarked on an expensive advertising campaign to convince the American people that this approach will lead to the benefits alleged in the letter.
However, serious concerns about the safety of fracking have been raised by studies conducted by scientists at Duke and Cornell universities and by adverse experiences of families living near wells developed in the fracking process.
Concerns include the possible contamination of drinking water with dangerous chemicals. Recently, several states have taken action to limit fracking, and the Environmental Protection Agency has launched an extensive study to assess the effects of fracking on drinking water, with the results expected in 2014.
Certainly it is premature as a society to jump on fracking and pipeline bandwagons before these results are available.
The argument made in the letter that the U.S. should use oil from Canadian sands because China is doing so is simplistic. China has launched a massive, billion-dollar national effort to develop such renewable sources of energy as solar and wind power, creating millions of jobs in the process.
They are streaking ahead of us in this vital area. As a nation, if we are serious about competing successfully with China, we need to get serious about developing these sources rather than perpetuating our dependence on fossil fuels.
The letter championing the proposed pipeline also exhibits a woeful lack of faith in the free enterprise system by implying that continuation of billions of dollars of government subsidies is necessary to preserve the economic well-being of oil companies, the most profitable companies in history.
Surely, of the hundreds of companies included in mutual funds, 401(k) plans or pension plans, oil companies are the least in need of financial assistance from American taxpayers.
The socialistic notion that the government should channel money to wealthy corporations for the benefit of stockholders is preposterous.
These companies should be able to compete in the marketplace without government welfare.
Robert Blake is a professor emeritus of family and community medicine at MU.