Crossing the Bridge to Green: the Real Solutions to America’s Energy Crisis
With oil over four dollars a gallon, many Americans are pleading for a quick fix to our growing energy problems that have reached a peak in 2008. How ever, this is an unrealistic request, seeing as it will take many steps to quench our thirst for oil and the new energies we so desperately crave. With promising technologies like cellulosic ethanol, wind, and solar energies twenty to thirty years away from having any effect, many experts suggest building a bridge to green. Though controversial, experts show just how cost efficient, quickly effective, and surprisingly environmentally friendly these solutions are.
Lets start with a button pushing issue: Offshore drilling. As of right now, president George W. Bush lifted a 27-year executive ban on offshore oil drilling. This decision came in reaction to record high prices at the pump, which were driven up due to speculation and weaning supply. Currently, 700 billion dollars of our money is being sent to hostile nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia for foreign oil. These nations refuse to increase production despite the growing worldwide crisis. In fact, king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia attributed the reasoning of his decision due to the “selfish interest, and increased consumption” of the west. Speculators see these hostile sentiments of the mid-east as ample opportunity to bet that oil prices will rise (often contributing to rising prices themselves). These problems combined equate to the suffering of oil addicted Americans at the pump. “The higher cost of energy is not just affecting Americans through the price of a gallon of gas, it’s affecting the cost to put food on their table”, says John Derrick, director of research at U.S. global investors. So, with 83% of Americans in approval of permanently lifting the ban, is it time to do so?
(CNN poling data, July 2008 )
The economic benefits of such a decision are clear: quick relief. Since the ban was lifted a week and a half ago (July 2008), crude prices dropped from 147 dollars to 123 dollars a barrel, according to market data. There is an estimated 116 billion barrels worth of oil in the OCS (outer continental shelf). Scientists from Exxon-Mobil say that some of this oil could be available within one to two years. Yet, the democratically controlled congress won’t budge. Their argument is not as compelling as it once sounded. Congress claims that the oil will not be available for ten or more years. This is false, according to scientists who have studied the area (OCS) extensively. Another faction of their argument is that oil companies already have 68 million acres of land to drill. The land has been proven to be an uncertain supplier, and possibly dried up. This has been proven due to technology that reads electromagnetic waves in the earth’s crust that detects crude reserves. Regardless of when the oil is usable from the OCS, it will bring down prices (as it has shown through the recent decline in crude prices). Speculators cannot rely on conflicts in Africa and the mid-east for reasons to bet on a rise in prices, because we will dictate our own oil market. We will have the measures in place to control our own oil production until we have alternative energy at our hands.
Aside from the fact that drilling in the OCS is cost efficient and effective, many feel it is not environmentally friendly. This is surprisingly untrue. The ban was originally set in place to combat the poorly maintained facilities on the OCS back in the 70s. Since that time, we have seen improving technology that have attributed to safer, more environmentally friendly practices. (CNN report) Since the 70s, we have seen drastic declines in oil spills from rigs. Barrels that have dropped into the sea have declined from 1,000,000 in the 70s to under 1,000 after the turn of the 21st century. In fact, only 1% of oil in the sea is attributed to rigs offshore. The majority of oil in the sea is due to tankers importing oil. (Recent study performed by the U.S. department of interior, Mineral management service, Pacific OCS). In ANWR, many residents are for the drilling in their region. According to ANWR.org, these are some of the reasons:
Only 8% of ANWR would be considered for exploration, 250,000-735,000 jobs would be created, Prudhoe Bay (explored land) studies show that there is no direct impact on animals, such as the caribou (who went from 3,000 to 32,000 animals since exploration). With these perspectives, it is tough to argue that the technology is environmentally unfriendly.
Another hot button issue is an essential piece of the bridge to green: Nuclear energy.
The founder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, says, “nuclear energy … remains the only practical, safe, and environmentally-friendly means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing energy security.” Nuclear plants emit zero carbon dioxide into the environment. Unlike Nuclear plants, old, coal-fired plants contribute to 93% of nitrogen oxide, 96% of Sulfur dioxide, 88% of carbon dioxide, and 99% of mercury emissions, according to the U.S. clean air council. How ever, many environmentalists fear another disaster, like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Both of these disasters occurred due to poor design and maintenance. As of right now, over 400 nuclear reactors have operated every day without serious incident (100 of those reactors in the U.S. already). In fact 1/3rd of the cost goes to maintenance and infrastructure safety.
The environmentally safe features are proven, but what about the cost? A single facility costs around 11 billion dollars to build. Also, in order to meet with regulations, facilities have to update their reactors every 10-20 years, costing additional billions. It is not impossible to afford though. Many countries, like France have heavily relied on nuclear energy. 79% of their energy is from nuclear energy alone, and much of that is exported. When compared to the continually rising costs of solar panels, nuclear energy comes in much cheaper according to Patrick Moore. Also, nuclear power, like in other countries is subsidized, ultimately decreasing the cost.
Environmentally friendly, but a bit expensive to maintain, nuclear energy has proven already that it is a viable source of alternative energy. France has built functionally safe facilities in five years time. This means we could have clean energy that could fuel our homes and businesses as soon as 2012! The U.S. already has 100 reactors. Yet, we will need even more to make an impact.
Finally, one will need to eventually have more fuel-efficient cars in addition to wind, and solar energies. How ever, many car companies are only just beginning to switch green, as plummeting SUV sales call for a change. In Europe, they pay ten dollars a gallon for gas! Their cars are very fuel efficient, getting well over 30 MPG rated. American companies like GM and Ford build many of these cars. With the increase in production of these fuel efficient and smart cars, we can start seeing changes soon. First, legislation will need to be passed in order to prevent car companies from manufacturing cars under 30 MPG. Both candidates have a plan to make this possible. By 2012, all major car companies will have electric cars, and fuel-efficient vehicles to reduce consumption of oil regardless of any legislation. (NY auto show) In order to allow ethanol to replace oil, it will take at least 30 years. Ethanol is also very expensive (more so than oil – at its average price before 2008). It would also outsource a lot of farming in order to meet production needs. How ever, like Nuclear power, the benefits are clear. Brazil took hint at the embargo of the 70s and is completely reliant on ethanol. Like the cars being produced now here in the U.S., Brazil’s cars are flex-fuel vehicles (vehicles that can run on alternative fuels). With the car companies and farmers working together, Brazil’s success can be ours by 2030. The only con is being able to produce ethanol on farms without disrupting the production of other necessities like food. Researchers are working on a way to synthesize production in order to combat with this problem. Although solar and wind are cutting edge as well, these alternatives cannot yield enough power alone to fuel the U.S. (according to recent studies) Hopefully with enough research, we can find a way to combine solar, wind, and even hydro energy in a cost efficient and productive matter.
So, as for now the future is ethanol, and nuclear power. Both have proven to be the most effective, cost-efficient, environmentally friendly cures to America’s oil addiction. How ever, it will take some time, as that particular future is over 30 years away. So, for now we need to make the bridge to green by domesticating oil production and bringing down the prices of crude. After that, it will be up to us to increase fuel efficiency in the vehicles we drive. This will allow us to cut back on oil, and use less of our own product. Simultaneously we need to give incentives to our investment class, in order to make them put the necessary funds behind ethanol and green energy research. America is at war with it’s self. We need to stop the partisan politics and free Americans from the strangle hold of the gas pumps; and that starts here and now, with the facts about the real non-partisan, spin-free future of energy.