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U.S. energy policy: A slow national suicide

In 1969, three unrelated events occurred that have since been combined with political bungling to slowly strangle the U.S. economy. Moammar Gadhafi overthrew King Idris of Libya. He nationalized Western oil company reserves with no retribution from the U.S. Sensing our weakness, all of the other OPEC nations abrogated their concession agreements with U.S. companies. The Arab producers cut back production and embargoed the U.S. because of our support for Israel. Middle East despots have been in the driver's seat ever since, and as the Arab Spring seems increasingly likely to empower Islamists, things are unlikely to get better.

Also that year, an oil spill from a drilling platform off Santa Barbara was the catalyst for the current environmentalist efforts to prevent all exploration on the continental shelves on the East and West coasts and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. crude production went into irreversible decline.

Finally, in 1969 synthetic crude oil from the Athabasca tar sand of Alberta, Canada, began to be produced. It has been transported without incident to U.S. refiners by pipeline for 40 years. There is now an environmental movement to prevent the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to deliver additional tar sands crude from Alberta to the U.S. to make up for declining U.S. production. Opponents of Keystone XL won a victory this month when President Barack Obama refused to sign off on the pipeline's proposed route, forcing at least a year's delay as the project is reconfigured.

These are the same environmentalists, of course, who block exploration on the continental shelves and ANWR, which adds to the U.S. and global oil shortage, driving up prices that make the Athabasca tar sands projects viable. In any event, if Keystone XL is blocked, a pipeline will be built to Canada's West Coast for Chinese deliveries. This will reduce China's need for Middle East crude and increase our requirements for supplies from people who want to destroy the U.S.

The administration continues to push for wind and sun projects (see the Solyndra debacle). Multiple studies show that wind power does not reduce carbon dioxide because of the inefficient cycling operations in fossil fuel plants to provide instant power into the grid when the wind stops blowing.

As for solar, to provide a measurable amount of power it would be necessary to cover a major portion of the Mojave Desert with mirrors to collect heat at the peak of the day and again would require cycling of fossil fuel plants to make up for when the sun doesn't shine.

The same radical opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline has expanded to the production of natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation, which stretches from New York through Pennsylvania and Maryland into West Virginia, with unsubstantiated claims of impending disaster for the water tables. Hydro-fracturing has been used in secondary/tertiary oil and gas recovery for 60 years in the West with no detrimental effect on the environment or water supplies, and coupled with horizontal drilling is responsible for raising crude production in the Dakotas to slow U.S. declines. Maryland has a moratorium on shale gas production.

Much-maligned Big Oil still has the only technology capable of developing additional energy supplies, shorn of government impediments. Meanwhile, anti-nuclear activists have stopped all consideration of nuclear power in the U.S. in the wake of Fukushima — which, despite being the worst nuclear meltdown in history, caused no nuclear-related deaths.

CFP of France was thrown out of the Middle East, along with the U.S. companies, in 1974. The country immediately launched a focused strategy to reduce reliance on Mideast oil. Today France has the world's most sophisticated high-speed electric rail system, produces 80 percent of its power by nuclear plants and reprocesses its spent nuclear fuel. The Nissan Renault Leaf pure electric car is now in mass production. By 2030, France will be essentially carbon dioxide free except for jet fuel and diesel fuel for heavy truck transportation.

Sun and wind will never become a significant portion of our energy mix. High-priced oil since the 1970s has created 40 years of extensive conservation; there is little more to be gained. We can either emulate the French and in parallel aggressively expand our fossil fuel resources or face a slow, brutal economic decline against rising Asian power, coupled to increasing risks from an increasingly volatile region that controls the world's oil supplies.

The garrote is an unpleasant execution by slow strangulation. It is extremely difficult to commit national suicide by turning the handle ourselves, but we are trying.

Charles Campbell, a Woodstock resident, is a retired senior vice president of Gulf Oil Corp. His email is lochawe@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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