OPINION: Reliable energy is close to homePetroleum will continue to be vital to America’s energy future well into the 21st century.
By: By DAN GUNDERSON, The Daily Telegram
Castro’s Cuba is opening up its continental shelf for oil and gas exploration, while the U.S. continental shelf outside the Gulf of Mexico has been restricted from domestic exploration since the 1980s.
To sustain the expansion of their booming economies, China and India have become the fastest-growing competitors for access to the world’s crude oil supplies.
And here in the United States, individual states are attempting to create their own energy policies. The corn-based ethanol industry is facing intense criticism from livestock organizations and others in the agriculture industry because of the resulting higher food-production costs. Hybrid vehicle sales are increasing dramatically. Motorists are reducing gasoline consumption and altering their driving habits.
The one constant in all of these developments is that petroleum will continue to be vital to America’s energy future well into the 21st century.
While “renewability” is an important factor in our future energy choices, reliability is also essential. Contrary to popular perception, world oil and gas reserves remain abundant. But the lack of access to these reserves is a primary limiting factor in our domestic energy supply.
More than 20 years of ill-considered public policy that restricted access to government lands or prohibited exploration activities has led to higher prices and a significant tightening in current global energy supplies. This has become even more troublesome for U.S. energy consumers as newer competitors such as China and India have bid up the world price for crude oil, gasoline and diesel from sources that have traditionally supplied the U.S.
What hurdles must be overcome to develop a long-term energy policy that includes increased petroleum exploration and reliability?
First, petroleum will continue to be traded in world markets regardless of American views about exploration.
Second, consumers must keep in mind that petroleum is integral to almost every aspect of daily life. Plastics, paint, asphalt, clothing, carpet, medical equipment, cell phones, computers, tools and vehicle components are only a tiny fraction of the thousands of important products we use that are made from the petroleum refining process. In fact, the long-term need for reliable petroleum feed stocks for items such as these may well exceed the useful lifetime of the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.
Third, the closer petroleum supplies are to users, the more reliable a resource petroleum becomes. Distant resources require greater infrastructure and longer delivery times. And in some countries where petroleum resources are abundant, political, economic or social conditions make exploration and production activities very risky or even impossible.
Finally, while petroleum exploration can sometimes involve temporary disruption or public inconvenience, modern technology and environmentally sound resource management practices ensure responsible operations and complete land restoration. For example, though thousands of oil and gas rigs have operated in the Gulf of Mexico for nearly a century, commercial and recreational fishermen have found that they have become prolific artificial reefs and fisheries.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, Canada is America’s No. 1 supplier of its imported oil and natural gas; and the oil sands of Alberta province represent about one-half of western Canada’s production. In fact, its proven oil sands reserves rival those of Saudi Arabia. This is good news for the United States and even better news for Wisconsin, as oil sands production can arrive in greater volumes at refineries supplying the Midwest.
Adding to the good-news story, Wisconsin-based companies such as P&H Mining Equipment are producing the multimillion-dollar shovels built for use in producing the oil sands. One shovel manufactured by P&H Mining Equipment in Milwaukee provides hundreds of jobs paying family-supporting wages and benefits.
Not everyone understands that the oil sands and other petroleum resources found in places like Canada increase U.S. energy reliability and security. Some people even suggest that we can simply eliminate petroleum from the American way of life and the economy will continue to grow and create jobs and the promise of a better quality of life for future generations. These folks, it seems, would simply turn 300 million automobiles into so many lawn ornaments, eliminate millions of jobs, do without valuable products and use the bicycles that the Chinese and Indian people are so eager to abandon.
No one is happy about high prices at the pump. I’m certainly not. But common sense must prevail. A sound energy policy is vital for America’s future. It will include biofuels and nuclear and solar and coal and wind and petroleum. And to ensure a reliable petroleum supply for the hard-working families of Wisconsin, a sound energy policy must include oil sands production.
Dan Gunderson is coordinator for the Wisconsin Labor & Industry Coalition for Reliable Energy.