A Colorado landowner ignites his cigarette lighter and holds it close to tap water running from a faucet in his home. A few seconds pass, and the single flame bursts into a ball of fire that sends the man reeling backward.
This shocking scene appears in the 2010 documentary Gasland, produced and directed by filmmaker Josh Fox, which he touts as an exposé on the evils of a particular method of drilling for natural gas called hydraulic fracturing or “fracing,” pronounced “fracking.” Fox claims that nearby drilling contaminated area groundwater, causing the fireball to burst from that Colorado tap.
Political contention over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is rife with rhetoric and claims of environmental apocalypse, as the paperwork for the proposed 1,700-mile Canada-U.S. pipeline gathers dust on President Obama’s in-tray. If approved, the $7 billion expansion will transport Canadian crude oil from the Athabasca Oil Sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada, southeast through the U.S. Midwest, and then on to the Gulf Coast.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in an AP interview on September 21 that the Obama administration will continue to support solar power. He made the statement despite the growing scandal over $528 million in loan guarantees to the now-bankrupt California solar power company Solyndra and the practical failure of myriad “alternative energy sources” such as wind and solar power. "I think the future for solar energy is bright. It's not going to be a perfect path where every project proposed is going to be built toward completion." He added that the case of Solyndra demonstrated the challenges facing solar energy industries. Other politicians, such as Governor Brown, stand firmly behind the concept of such government-sponsored enterprises.
Should energy consumers pay extra taxes to fund government-mandated and subsidized renewable energy technologies? "Absolutely yes," says John Bryson, President Obama's nominee for Commerce Secretary. He made the remark at a meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California in 2009 and went on to extol the virtues of hidden rates in California, a state encumbered with some of the nation's highest electricity and unemployment rates.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to redefine "diesel fuel" so it can expand regulations in natural-gas drilling. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce claims the measure is necessary to "protect human health" from fuels used in hydraulic fracturing, a process that injects high-pressure fluids and sand into shale formations deep beneath the Earth's surface to tap natural-gas reserves.
Rising energy prices in Germany are forcing the pharmaceutical and chemical conglomerate Bayer to threaten a move to China. The culprit is Germany's nuclear energy exit bill, passed last month in reaction to Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. The bill orders a nuclear phase-out by 2022. Meanwhile, China plans to build 36 new nuclear power plants during the next decade.
“The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running out,” warned the President in a televised speech on energy policy. And because we are running out, “we must prepare quickly” for a transition “to strict conservation and to the use of coal and permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power.”
At first glance the concepts of horizontal drilling for oil and natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting oil and gas from tight shale formations, seem physically impossible. But tens of thousands of gas wells already using this revolutionary technology prove otherwise. Hydraulic fracturing of underground wells is not a new idea, having been used for about a century to increase flow in water wells. When formations are “tight” or clogged, reversing the flow temporarily with high pressure from inside the well often allows more flow. But there, the similarity with today’s technology ends.
The crisis at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant in the aftermath of the magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11 has had aftershocks of its own around the globe. Predictably, whenever there is an incident involving a nuclear power plant, politicians will scramble to call for new safety measures, new inspections, and call into question the entire role of nuclear power in meeting the energy needs of a burgeoning global population. Such posturing will undoubtedly delay efforts to meet power consumption needs throughout the developed world, but for the Germans, the fallout from Fukushima will now include the nation’s abandonment of nuclear power altogether.
John Felmy is chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute (API), responsible for overseeing the organization’s economic, statistical, and policy analysis. He has over 25 years’ experience in energy, economic, and environmental analysis. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Maryland. John is a member of several professional associations, including the American Economics Association and the International Association for Energy Economics. He was interviewed at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., by William F. Jasper, senior editor of The New American.