Published December 15, 2011
Motorists would stand little hope of getting to their intended destination if their maps or GPS systems were fundamentally flawed. In much the same way, American energy policy has lost its way because of a faulty map.
According to a deeply-rooted notion held by many in Washington, traditional sources of energy in the United States are disappearing. From that premise, some suggest that the federal government must take a strong hand in encouraging “renewable energy” while applying punitive measures that seek to discourage the use and production of oil, gas and coal.
This premise, however, is fatally flawed and the resulting energy policies that have emerged over the past decade have been disastrous for the nation.
The report “North American Energy Inventory” released this month by the Institute for Energy Research corrects that flawed premise and gives the facts about our vast energy resources and the job creation that would follow if Washington would get out of the way.
The quantity of known energy resources that can be produced using technology already at our disposal is nothing short of mind-boggling. For example, 1.79 trillion barrels of oil is enough to fuel every passenger car in the United States for 30 years. It’s also nearly double that of all the OPEC nations’ proven oil reserves combined.
Thanks to new advances in drilling technology, North America has at least 4.244 quadrillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas resources. To put that figure in perspective, it’s sufficient to fuel homes heated with natural gas in the United States for the next 857 years, and enough to provide the United States with electricity for 575 years at current consumption levels. In fact, that is more natural gas than all of the next five largest national proved reserves (more than Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkmenistan).
North America has no coal shortage, either. With 497 billion short tons or proven reserves, that is enough to provide electricity for the next 500 years, and perhaps more.
These findings are not entirely surprising. A November 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress found that, “America’s combined recoverable oil, natural gas, and coal endowment is the largest on Earth.”
And yet, American families continue to suffer because Washington clings to a false reality. "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times...and then just expect that other countries are going to say okay," declared candidate Barack Obama in 2008. Sitting in the Oval Office in 2010, President Obama lectured the American people that, "We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves."
Paging Jimmy Carter.
And what are the past results of such misguided energy policies? Long gas lines, fuel shortages, and skyrocketing prices at the pump. In this regard, it’s like déjà vu all over again. Shortly before his appointment as Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu told The Wall Street Journal, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”
These directionally challenged energy policies are killing jobs – not only in the oil and gas industry, but across the entire U.S. economy. In states like North Dakota, for instance, where the federal government only controls a narrow slice of surface and mineral interests, unemployment is the lowest in the nation at 3.5 percent. In Louisiana, though, where the administration’s deliberate slowness in opening offshore lands to exploration, the unemployment rate is 7 percent. Next door in Mississippi, unemployment is at 10.6 percent. Whole industries are dying in the Gulf of Mexico, and whole families are being disrupted by prolonged joblessness.
But given new information and an abundance of courage, policymakers may be able to confront their outmoded views of energy policy and draw a more realistic route toward American energy security and job creation.
Thomas J. Pyle is the president of the Institute for Energy Research (IER).