What isn’t being said (enough) about the Gulf oil spill

A dear friend asked out loud on Facebook today what people made of the total absence of benefit concerts for the oil spill cleanup. Most of the folks that organize these things are wracked with guilt. They’d never admit it, of course, but they know deep down that it was extreme environmentalism that drove us away from safer land and near-shore drilling to the very risky “10 miles out and one mile down” scenario in which we find ourselves now. This disaster is partly, if not mostly, on them, so they’re not exactly eager to start raising funds for the cleanup.  They would then have to deal with the PR consequences that would come from admitting the folly of pushing America in the direction of the deepest sea drilling ever attempted in lieu of land-based drilling. They need to explain how the added risk was worth it.

We also have the Department of Energy to thank for this. The Department of Energy was instituted on 8-04-1977 as a result of the energy crisis of that time with the express purpose of reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Part of its mandate was to develop both clean energy sources AND fossil fuels in parallel so that a) we’d have an inexpensivesource of energy through our fossil fuels here at home while b) developing renewable and cleaner solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, and anything else that could be discovered. The wide-eyed plans of the time called for acres and acres of solar energy plants, and even plans to beam concentrated solar energy from space to the ground via large orbiting microwave transmitters.

But something went horribly wrong.

It is now 2010. We still depend on foreign sources of oil. We’ve shut down all but a few of our refineries, and even those aren’t running at top capacity or maintained very well. We are now prohibited from using our own underground sources for oil. We’re no closer to a viable, efficient fuel cell technology than we were in 1977. Solar efficiency has only gone up 10% since then. The cleanest, most abundant and efficient, and measurably environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels is nuclear power (yes, nuclear…it’s not your father’s nuclear). Other nations are building plants by the dozens, but we’ve become so paralyzed by the stigma of the word “nuclear” that we decided to cut off our own nose just to spite our faces. Nobody in the science community who wants to keep their credentials and funding dares utter very loudly our need to restart and rebuild our nuclear facilities.

The budget for the DOE is now over $25 billion a year. They have 16,000 federal employees and approximately 100,000 contract employees.

33 years, two generations of federal employees, and hundreds of billions of dollars later and we’re no better off than we were in 1977. In some ways, we’re worse off, especially now that we have to go so far out into the ocean for oil that one mistake costs the world its oceans.

Who would like to contact their congressperson and demand a restructuring or even outright elimination of the Department of Energy?

The savings from eliminating that department alone would help pay many of the costs associated with the oil spill clean-up.

If that sounds like crazy talk, ask yourself if you’d keep going to the same doctor after discovering that each time you take his prescriptions, you inexplicably keep getting sicker. At some point, we have to stop the sickness by refusing to take our “medicine” and getting a second opinion.

But should you hold your breath for the media to come out and talk about these things? The answer is a demonstrable “no”, as evidenced by this breathless rhetoric (appropriately entitled “If There Was Ever a Moment to Seize”) coming from Bill McKibben of Firedoglake.com, who seems stuck in the pre-ClimateGate past:

The planet’s future (and [Obama’s] legacy) will, in the long run, be defined by his response to global warming, which is clearly the greatest problem humans have ever faced.

If we were rapidly running out of oil, scarcity would drive up its price and make alternatives affordable without needing subsidies. But Obama left out the facts about our abundant untapped onshore reserves. As Heritage Foundation energy expert David Kreutzer notes,

  • ‘He also could have noted that billions of barrels of “easily accessible” oil have been turned into “impossible to access” oil by federal regulations and moratoria that block any access. There is still a lot of non-deep sea oil available off the coast of California that can be accessed from onshore. And, don’t forget, there are the 10 billion barrels in ANWR. All of this oil has been placed completely off limits by federal regulations.’

Instead, Obama’s speech simultaneously condemned overspending and denounced subsidies to big oil–even as he proposed spending billions more in new subsidies for the competitors of oil and gas.

Nuclear power, however, has far more abundant potential and needs only the lifting of government barriers rather than subsidies. As noted by Heritage’s nuclear expert, Jack Spencer, “the monthly cost of producing electricity from uranium-based fuel remains slightly less than coal and substantially less than natural gas or oil” because, “Nuclear power is the least expensive form of electricity produced in the United States.”

But nuclear does not fit political correctness. So another proposal is a backdoor subsidy that does not give government money directly toward alternative energy but instead dictates that utilities must generate certain levels of our electricity from sources like wind and solar (but not nuclear) — a so-called RES “renewable energy standard.”

But for anyone who believes we can power America solely through windmills (even though it is costlier), dream on. This would require 55,000 square miles densely packed with nothing but windmills. That’s like emptying the entire state of Wisconsin and making it all windmills all the time. But our lights would still go dark when the wind wasn’t blowing.

Solar power is even trickier than wind power, requiring rare elements to build solar cells, plus daylight and large surface area.

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