Drill our way to what, exactly?

Idealogues push for an energy policy that’s already failed us

A resident of Chico for more than 30 years, John Callaway retired in 2006 after working as a laboratory chemist at the city’s Water Pollution Control Plant.

Conservative ideologues are claiming that we can “drill” our way to cheap and plentiful petroleum by tapping our own known oil reserves. This ignores the following hard facts:

1. More than 90 percent of the world’s known reserves are located outside the continental USA.

2. The United States consumed more than 50 percent of its known oil reserves in the last century, when consumption was far lower. It will take considerably less time to use up the remaining supply.

3. None of the remaining reserves is an “elephant” (geological jargon for a petroleum deposit that can produce at a high rate for many decades). Our remaining deposits are small, numerous and widely distributed.

4. The profitability of an oil deposit is dependent on its size and location. Profitability decreases rapidly as size decreases. Many of our reserves are located offshore, which substantially increases costs.

5. Many of these offshore deposits are producing natural gas, not petroleum. Natural gas is useful for heating and electrical power generation but is not easily adaptable as a universal engine fuel.

Other carbon fuels (coal, oil shale, tar sands) can be converted to a liquid derivative (syn-fuel), but they must be baked at high temperature to accomplish this conversion. Huge amounts of another carbon fuel (natural gas) must be burned to achieve this. The net gain in energy is very low, and it also dumps large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

There will be nothing cheap about syn-fuels. Some biofuels (ethanol) suffer from the same problems.

Conservatives are again trying to force an energy policy on this country that is as catastrophic as the one initiated by the Reagan presidency (1980-1988). The Alaska oil fields were opened during the Carter presidency (1976-1980), and he also supplied substantial funds to investigate alternative energy supplies, including non-nuclear carbon-free energy. Reagan cancelled those programs, gave the data derived from those studies free to the oil companies, and vastly increased military expenditures as a brute-force method to retain access to Middle East oil.

Every president since Reagan has squandered the cushion provided by the Alaskan oil to develop non-nuclear carbon-free energy.

The Alaskan oil fields that were tapped in 1977 are in decline now, squandered by a conservative ideology addicted to carbon energy. The Reagan energy policies are now collapsing, and these ideologues are using panic to force through a “new” energy policy with no more guarantees for carbon-free energy than the Reagan policy.

Panic has never been a successful survival strategy. I would not trust any political/economic leadership that has so badly underperformed in the last 30 years.