Doug Thompson

“Drill here. Drill now. Pay less.” That sounds like a powerful argument. Consider, though, that this was U.S. energy policy for all of the preceding century and part of the 19th. It’s exactly the policy that got us here.
Very significant oil reserves lie in deep water offshore. I’m not worried about the environmental consequences of drilling there. All that’s fine and dandy. I just think it’s worth pointing out that we’ve used up so much of the oil on dry land. Yes, we can go a further along this dead end. My question is: Why? Why, when you can see the end of the road from here?
Sixty-nine percent of U.S. oil consumption is for transportation, according to the latest figure I can find. Our consumption of fuel oil is expected to drop by a significant 4 percent or so this year. Part of that comes from the slowdown in the economy, though. That’s hardly a good long-term conservation method.
Meanwhile, demand for oil worldwide makes up for all our savings and will add another 1 million barrels a day in demand this year.
We can reform commodity trading practices. The idea of hanging the speculators is always popular when prices are high. However, commodity markets are nothing but big betting tables. Everybody’s betting that the price of oil will go up. It would be nice if we started doing something serious about the supply and demand situation before the crunch the speculators are betting on lands on our heads.
The core problem is not speculation. The core problem is the real-world situation that drives that speculation. China now uses more oil than Japan and Korea combined, according to a recently published international study. India’s become a serious world economic player, too.
Significantly, both those nations consume enormous amounts of coal. That’s another threat to the planet’s long-term habitability.
Wind and solar power? Hey, I’m all for it. I’m also for properly insulating your house, putting in double-pane windows and perhaps replacing the roof, when it needs it, with white tiles that reflect heat.
Solar power and so forth is a panacea. Consumers could do more good by making their homes and offices energy efficient. The net gain would be more than solar power could generate in the foreseeable future.
We aren’t that helpless here. I drive a four-cylinder Toyota that can go from North Little Rock, Arkansas to College Station, Texas on three-quarters of a tank of gas. When and if the bike trail is finished to downtown Fayetteville, I’m still going to give serious consideration to putting my thoroughly middle-aged body on a bike and pedaling my way to work.
That’s not an option for everybody and I know that. However, there’s something like that each of us can do.
The government isn’t going to bail us out of this and neither are oil companies. The closest thing this country’s had to an energy policy was to invade Iraq and let the cheap oil flow once the liberation celebrations were over. We all saw how that worked out.
Our government taxes imports of Brazilian ethanol at 54 cents a gallon. It subsidizes grossly inefficient corn-based domestic ethanol with billions of our taxpayer dollars.
According to The Economist magazine, producing sugar cane ethanol creates 8.2 times as much energy as it consumes, compared to 1.5 for corn ethanol. Also from The Economist: “Some greens say that the spread of sugar is deforesting the Amazon. That is not true. The vast majority of the sugar crop is grown thousands of miles away from the forest, in São Paulo state or the northeast.”
Our government does more harm than good as far as energy is concerned. The best description I ever heard of U.S. energy policy went like this: Spur demand, stifle supply and buy what you need from the people who hate you the most.
One last word: Sugar cane used to be grown in the United States as far north as North Carolina. It died off before growers could form an ethanol lobby.
Maybe it’s time to bring the cane back.

Categories: Features