In Walt Disney’s 1940 animated film “Pinocchio,” woodcarver Geppetto dreams that his wooden marionette will turn into a real boy. Geppetto’s hopes are immortalized in the song “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which begins: “When you wish upon a star/ Makes no difference who you are/ Anything your heart desires/ Will come to you.”
The song won an Academy Award. It didn’t win a Nobel Prize for Economics or any awards for public policy, and was never intended as a guide for government energy and environmental programs.
Nevertheless, President Obama and the radical environmentalists who helped him win a second term seem to believe that, if only they wish hard enough, they can make the sun, wind, waves, algae and fields of corn replace fossil fuels as the world’s primary energy sources.
Never mind that these misnamed “clean and green” energy sources are still too impractical, unreliable, expensive and land-intensive to compete with oil, natural gas and coal on a level playing field. Team Obama will make non-hydrocarbon energy more competitive, by tilting the playing field.
Knowing hope and hype energy can’t survive without mandates and subsidies, they are doubling down on grants and loans for campaign-contributing corporate cronies. They ignore environmental study, health and endangered species laws, to green-light favored projects and technologies, overlooking bird kills and habitats blanketed or impacted by wind turbines, solar panels and algal ponds, and disregarding impacts of wind turbines on the health of people living near industrial wind facilities. They dismiss the fact that ethanol production requires billions of gallons of water and prodigious amounts of diesel and natural gas.
President Obama’s hype, hope and wish energy extracts tens of billions of dollars a year from productive, profitable sectors of the economy – to subsidize “alternative energy,” at the rate of some $200,000 per job “created” by government dictate and taxpayer money. Equally bad, that expensive energy increases costs for every family, factory, farm, hospital, restaurant and other business in the country, adversely affecting job creation and retention throughout the nation.
For hydrocarbon producers, the Obama Administration is tilting the playing field the other way. Federal bureaucrats delay and prevent leasing, drilling, mining and production of the fossil fuels that provide 85% of all US energy, versus less than 3% from these favored “renewable” sources.
Hydrocarbons generate millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars annually in economic activity, royalties and taxes. And yet, the Administration continues to throw senseless obstacles in the way of efforts to produce more onshore and offshore oil and gas right here in the United States, utilize our abundant coal resources, and bring Canadian oil to U.S. refineries by building the Keystone XL pipeline.
While they ignore the slaughter of countless eagles, whooping cranes, egrets, falcons, hawks, geese, bats and other flying creatures by wind turbines – Interior Department bureaucrats use sage grouse and prairie chickens to stymie leasing, drilling and hydraulic fracturing on public and private lands alike.
Fracking was developed by private industry, using private funding and innovation on private lands. It is the primary reason petroleum production (oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids) has increased in the United States, despite Team Obama’s leasing and drilling moratoria. No wonder it blossomed in North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas, where the federal government owns just 2-5% of all land, and not in the thirteen states where the feds own and control 30% (Montana) to 85% (Nevada) of the land.
According to IHS Global Insight, this unconventional oil and gas revolution has already created 1.7 million new jobs, pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the US economy, and generated over $60 billion in federal, state and local tax receipts during 2012 alone. By 2035, it could create another 2 million jobs, rejuvenate American manufacturing, inject more than $5 trillion in cumulative capital expenditures in the US economy, and generate over $2.5 trillion in cumulative added government revenues, to offset some of the profligate spending by the White House, Congress and many states (including California, Illinois and New York, which have thus far refused to tap their own ample shale resources).
Fracking has driven US natural gas prices to $3.70 per thousand cubic feet (or million Btu) today – versus a high of $8 in the US a few years ago, and $14 in Europe and $17 in Japan today. That means cheaper electricity for homes, businesses and charities, low-cost transportation fuel for natural gas-powered vehicles, and less expensive feed stocks for petrochemicals – which means more jobs, economic productivity and tax revenues. This natural gas has also replaced coal in factories and electric power plants, reducing emissions of particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide.
Fracking has also reduced US oil imports (and the export of US dollars). That’s made Russia, Venezuela and Arab states nervous that prices will fall and demand for their gas and oil will shrivel. It’s persuaded the United Arab Emirates to bankroll actor Matt Damon’s new anti-fracking film, “Promised Land.”
Contrary to what Damon and frack-frenzied factions assert, the process is safe. Having “fracked” almost 2.5 million wells since 1949, the industry increasingly uses kitchen-cabinet chemicals and saline water that is unfit for agriculture, recycles that water, and has disproven virtually every claim of water contamination. The “controversy” over fracking was manufactured, to enrich environmentalist groups.
Their latest “concern” is that methane leaking from well completions and pipelines could contribute to “runaway manmade global warming.” However, methane represents barely 0.00018% of Earth’s atmosphere (1.8 ppm, equivalent to 18 cents out of $100,000); its link to climate change is conjectural at best; and whatever might possibly escape from US operations is dwarfed by CH4 emissions from termites, cows, landfills, coal seams, and sloppy oil and gas operations in countries like Nigeria.
No wonder Great Britain has decided to embrace fracking – and give UK families and businesses a break from the soaring energy prices that have so outraged its citizens. No wonder former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has told fellow Democrat New York Governor Andrew Cuomo he’d be “frackin’ crazy” to continue banning the practice in economically depressed Upstate NY. Many families in the area are on the verge of losing their farms and strongly support drilling operations that would generate jobs and revenues – and save their farms from vulture environmentalists who are waiting for foreclosures, to swoop in and grab them on the cheap, to create new parks and weekend homes for New York City elites.
Where are Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and other Farm Aid celebrities, when you really need them?
Meanwhile, EPA and Interior are devising excuses to impose layers of new federal regulations on fracking for oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids from state, federal and private lands alike: water use, water contamination, methane leakage, wildlife impacts – whatever it takes to delay and obstruct.
By raising interminable objections to proven, safe technologies, Team Obama hopes to limit supplies and raise production costs of these fossil fuels. This, they theorize, will increase oil and gas prices, making hype and hope energy more competitive – at the expense of jobs, economic growth and tax revenues.
In the final analysis, energy policy is about choosing among imperfect sources of power to support modern societies and living standards. No source of energy, anywhere, anytime, has zero environmental impact and carries no risk of something going wrong.
Rather than wasting billions more taxpayer dollars pursuing energy wishes on stars, President Obama, Congress and Governor Cuomo should pursue energy reality and security. They should let states continue regulating hydraulic fracturing on private land, and make it easier to get drilling and fracking permits on federal land – to ensure job creation, revenue generation, and sensible environmental protection for wildlife and ecological values that might be threatened by petroleum, wind, solar or ethanol programs.
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.