By Fr. George Welzbacher
June 1, 2008
Paying at the pump for many Americans is beginning to resemble a nightmare, and we have Congress to thank for much of the pain. It's true, of course, that no single factor deserves all of the blame for kicking the price of a barrel of oil towards the upper reaches of the stratosphere. A voracious appetite for foreign oil is the inevitable consequence of oil-poor India's and China's expanding economies even as here at home a weakened dollar has made commodities speculation centered on oil immensely more attractive. But the fact remains that Congress has refused time and again (and yet again very recently) to permit off-shore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean's attested deposits and "small footprint" drilling here and there in Alaska's Wildlife Refuge, where new state-of-the-art technology would be minimally annoying to the caribou. So, too, legislative red tape has contributed importantly to delaying the construction of badly needed refineries; it's been nearly a third of a century since a refinery was built in the U.S.A.. And while the conversion of coal into synthetic fuels has been technically feasible since the 1920's-throughout World War II it was coal-derived synthetic fuels that kept Germany's air force flying-and though the technology is at last available for capturing and appropriately diverting the pollutants emitted during the production of these fuels, not to mention that Montana alone has deposits of coal that are all but limitless, a fear of offending the environmentalists has kept Congress from providing the dispensation from existing laws that is required for the large-scale production of synthetic fuels. (Given the present price of a barrel of oil the costs involved in producing synthetic fuels are eminently competitive).
The same would hold true for a massive transition to nuclear plants for the generation of electricity. France, for example, has been obtaining the lion's share of its electricity for decades from nuclear facilities and with no apocalyptic break-downs. (The Chernobyl disaster of many years ago in Soviet Ukraine was due to sloppy construction and even sloppier maintenance, by and large endemic characteristics of the Soviet economic system).
All in all it is within our power to free ourselves ourselves in the relatively near future from our present enslavement to those producers of foreign oil who are waging an economic war against us, and waging it on a scale that could lead to the eventual endangerment of our entire economy, not to mention the immediate infliction of massive pain upon those Americans who are financially highly vulnerable.
A vast new program involving large-scale cooperation with private industry and blessed (rather than impeded) by our government, a program combining the proper exploitation of domestic oil fields the building of new refineries, the large-scale production of coal-derived synthetic fuels, enhanced research into production of biofuels (focusing on switch grass and waste products rather than on com), and a full-speed conversion to nuclear power for much if not most of our electricity could remove the knife-at-our-throats that this supine enslavement to foreign oil is effectively keeping in place.
* * * * *An interesting essay on this important issue appeared in the National Edition of The Washington Times for May 19, 2008. Its author: the syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. I reprint it here, somewhat abridged.
* * * * *Where's the outrage at our dependence on foreign Oil?
By Cal Thomas
... The last refinery built in America was in 1976. Tighter government regulations are the main reason. That's how unserious we are about our energy "crisis"....
There would be plenty of oil available to the United States if the oil companies were allowed to get it: "Eighty-five percent of offshore oil is off-limits." Responding to objections to offshore drilling by environmentalists and their allies in Congress, Peter Robertson [Vice Chairman of Chevron] noted that some of the strongest pro-environment nations in Europe- -he mentions Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom-lease offshore locations for oil exploration. The technology has become so good , he said, that during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, "1,000 offshore wells were destroyed [in the Gulf of Mexico], but not one leaked." Australia, he said, has allowed offshore drillingfor 40 years without any environmental damage.
In addition to the sinking value of the dollar, here is the main problem: According to the Energy Department, U.S. oil production has fallen about 40 percent since 1985, while the consumption of oil has grown more than 30 percent.
According to government estimates, there is enough oil in areas accessible to America-112 billion barrels-to power more than 60 million cars for 60 years. The Outer Continental Shelf alone contains an estimated 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Had President Clinton not vetoed exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in 1995, when oil was $19 a barrel America would currently receive more than 1 million barrels a day domestically, all of it via better technology than existed more than 30 yeas ago. That was when the Alaskan pipeline was built despite protests from environmentalists who claimed it would destroy the caribou. It didn't, but the environmentalists are back with the same discredited arguments. Because most of the oil remains "off-limits," we are becoming more dependent on foreign oil.
No, we can't "drill our way out" of our addiction to oil, but we can make the transition to other energy sources easier while lessening our dependence on foreign oil and without propping up dictators who use our money to subsidize terrorists. A slow transition will also give us time to consider more fuel-efficient cars and greater use of public transportation, even bicycles for short trips. A friend bikes to work every day, saving gas, car payments, insurance and repair costs.