March 1, 2013 | Back to: Columns

Energy champs or chumps?

Tough times for those attempting to take the high ground on environmental issues when Big Coal, Big Oil and Big Gas are using our struggling workforce to dig the political ground out from under them, but at some point, America has to question the absurdity that is our national energy policy — and why our gangbusters resource exploitation is not translating to cheaper domestic energy.

Indeed, we have such a glut of energy these days that we are openly burning off enough natural gas in North Dakota “fracking” fields (fracking: hydraulic fracturing of rock with huge amounts of water and chemicals) to power 500,000 homes per day — observable by satellite and as brilliant as light output of major U.S. cities. Why? Because the gas is too expensive to store or ship.

Meanwhile, in the northern regions of Canada, industry giants are turning thousands of square miles of beautiful but remote lands into one of the largest toxic waste dumps on the planet (and in the history of human kind) in order to extract oil from its “tar sands.” The waste byproduct, fine silt and toxic chemicals, takes so long to settle (estimated decades or longer) that it cannot be released into waterways as it would suffocate all aquatic life, so it is stored in huge holding ponds, rivaling in size the only other man-made object visible from space, the Great Wall of China.

What do these two energy frontiers have in common? One of President Obama’s biggest current leadership challenges, i.e., the pending approval of the transcontinental Keystone XL pipeline that pits Obama-supporting environmentalists fighting global warming against Obama-supporting labor unions and globally powerful apolitical (“whoever gets the job done”) corporate interests.

The pipeline has U.S. and foreign components. Obama has approved new oil pipelines to take U.S. oil from North Dakota to our Gulf Coast refineries so that they may process it and sell it on the lucrative global market, driving up, not down, costs for U.S. consumers in our “free market” global economy. The second leg of the pipeline, coming from northern Canada, has not yet been approved, but this too is intended for the same use — not for us but for world consumption (and to wage economic war against our socialist neighbors? China was the original intended market before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped in, and both pipelines conveniently result in competition with Venezuelan oil exports. Is this economic “war for oil” some sort of update of our Civil War’s “scorched earth” policy, i.e., win at any cost? Not to mention the hypocrisy of the U.S. fighting to control oil in the “backyard” countries bordering China and Venezuela …)

Yes, there is employment to be had. People were and are employed cleaning up the huge BP oil spill (and others not big enough to be press-worthy) in the Gulf; people are employed in monitoring and cleaning up leaking radioactive waste in Hanford, Wash., and Fukushima, Japan, and Chernobyl, Ukraine, and at all of the several hundred nuclear energy and weapons facilities in the U.S. and the world; people are employed extracting 2-foot thick coal seams by removing eastern mountain tops and cleaning up the attendant blown-out holding ponds that contaminate homes, towns and streams. Reports are that many jobs in the North Dakota fracking fields are in the six figures, and unemployment there is the lowest in the nation, plus this frontier town boom is creating thriving support businesses (housing construction, drug and prostitution businesses, to name a few).

Aside from the absurdities of using U.S. resources to benefit the world but not U.S. consumers and taxpayers who subsidize these enormously profitable global energy giants, has anyone thought through what it means to take literally millions of years of sequestered carbon — created in those millions of years in global-wide conditions of high heat and humidity with attendant jungle environments — and release the carbon over a period of a few generations?

Or to put it another way, is it current energy policy to take U.S. and North American energy resources, privatize them, give taxpayer subsidies to global corporations to extract and sell them to the world and give U.S. citizens high prices and the globe a quick retro path to the age of the dinosaurs in return? Does this really make economic and environmental sense? Is this the best we can do for ourselves and our children’s children?

Terry Lamphier lives in Grass Valley.

(H)as anyone thought through what it means to take literally millions of years of sequestered carbon … and release the carbon over a period of a few generations?

Other voices
Terry Lamphier


Explore Related Articles

The Union Updated Apr 6, 2013 10:55AM Published Mar 1, 2013 10:26PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.