What if we could do one thing and achieve all this:
• Pay down the national debt yet lower taxes at the same time.
• Create up to 1 million new highly-paid and long-lasting jobs.
• Fund hundreds of billions in non-carbon energy research and development.
• Destroy Russia’s energy stranglehold over western Europe.
• Badly damage OPEC’s ability to control global energy pricing.
• Provide hundreds of thousands of kids with college degrees that actually get them jobs.
We can. And it won’t even be difficult.
Expensive, yes, time-consuming and long-term in nature, yes, but difficult? No. Yet a determination to do this one thing will set off a caterwauling and ninny-bleating that will dwarf anything we have yet seen. Because we need to abandon the notion that we should do everything we can to reduce the production and consumption of hydrocarbon-based energy. It’s far too late for that, as even some militant greens now realize.
Instead, we need to embrace a commitment to aggressive and broad-based development and production of the hydrocarbon resources now known to exist in the United States in a size hitherto unimaginable. Estimates of the potential hydrocarbon reserves contained within our borders now are comparable to, and perhaps greater, than the entire Middle East, including one vast reservoir of energy: the Green River Formation. According to a recent report from ABC News:
Drillers in Utah and Colorado are poking into a massive shale deposit trying to find a way to unlock oil reserves that are so vast they would swamp OPEC.
A recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that if half of the oil bound up in the rock of the Green River Formation could be recovered it would be “equal to the entire world’s proven oil reserves.”
Both the GAO and private industry estimate the amount of oil recoverable to be 3 trillion barrels.
And that’s it. The Green River Formation (GRF) is almost entirely on land owned by the federal government, which by itself can determine whether or not to open the GRF to exploration, development and extraction. But its existence brings to light a very interesting and very useful way of looking at the way we value the nation’s accounts as a whole. More on that later.
Of course, there’s more than one catch to the opportunity these resources offer. But they are trifling compared to the range of benefits that will result from successful development, and, in fact, many of the obstacles to monetizing the GRF are disguised opportunities in themselves.
The first problem is technological. The oil and natural gas in the GRC are bound up in shale, and require the development of existing extraction technologies into more efficient processes and at larger scales. The disinformation on this topic is entertaining; Wikipedia states that “the technology for converting rock into an oil from the Green River oil shale deposit has not been developed, and it has never been profitably implemented at any significant scale.” This should raise some eyebrows; first, the technology has “not been developed,” and then, “it has never been profitably implemented.” Which is it? And finally, at what “scale” has this non-existent technology been “profitably” implemented. Okay, it’s just Wikipedia, but you can hear the hysteria drowning out the facts already.
First, of all, the technology does exist, and, in fact, the government has already authorized six initial leases in the GRF. But so far, according to the ABC News report, “things have not gone smoothly.” No kidding. Who in the world ever thought they would? An embryonic technology, which did not exist a few years ago, will most likely require some refinement before it is either efficient or inexpensive. Are we really to believe that we cannot find a way to extract oil from shale in a large-scale, cost-effective manner? Or build a computer more powerful and an IBM 360 the size of a deck of cards? Come on. Developing the technology will be the easiest part. And it will also be a large part of the ultimate financial benefit, because the income ultimately derived from the technology alone will be highly significant as well.
The second obstacle is more significant, and much more problematic. How can we do this in an environmentally responsible manner? Certainly there are still questions about various aspects of fracking, including methane release, groundwater contamination and other areas. The answer is again quite simple, although perhaps more thorny: we do it in a fashion that minimizes potential ecological damage, even if it is at the expense of initial efficiency and profitability.
Here, an anvil chorus of eco-chieftains will immediately begin screeching. They will be distrustful, and they are right to be suspicious. But the EPA has already demonstrated how — um — effective it can be at regulating industrial practice. The problem here will not be the government’s ability to ensure that prudent practices are stipulated and enforced; the problem will be the immediate insistence by the anti-carbon-at-any-cost crowd that any type of drilling will encourage energy profligacy, deter the development of “alternative” or “sustainable” fuels, and finally, will inevitably degrade the developmental sites into barren wastelands similar to abandoned strip mines and Love Canal chemical cesspools.
Bushwah. The sins of the past may be terrible, the damage horrible, and the costs unjustifibale. But we’re not talking about the past here. And that’s the real point.
It’s all well and good to point out the benefit of developing carbon-free alternatives. But here’s a grim reality:
Global total energy consumption of continues to grow at an alarming rate, and, more important, this growth is largely driven by China and India, who are very, very unlikely to accept any significant restraints on the consumption of carbon fuels.
In short, global energy demand will continue to accelerate far beyond the pace of developing alternative sources for many years to come. Some of these technologies — solar in particular — hold great promise, but improvements in capacity and efficiency are very unlikely to enable significant reductions in carbon-based fuel demand and consumption. If there was anything to be done about the chimera of “climate change,” or “global warming,” or, as it is now most recently styled, “climate disruption,” we have long since passed that point.
It seems strange that for all the garment-rending and breast-beating we endure from Cassandras prophesying death from climate-change famine, flood and pestilence, we hear nothing of the very real cost in human life from future energy deficiencies. Yet there is a direct and demonstrable correlation between energy deficiency and national death rates. The fact is, there is almost no human activity that is not energy dependent, and everything from agricultural yields to hospital mortality fluctuates directly with energy supply deficiencies or failures.
What we should be worried about is a real global energy shortage, driven not by political factors, but by real and permanent supply/demand forces. And we need to understand and embrace the notion that the cheaper we can make energy, the better we can sustain our growing global population — another trend that is unlikely to decelerate anytime soon.
We therefore think the realistic projection of energy requirements alone mandates the development of structures like the Green River Formation. We plain and simply need the fuel.
And if we decide to proceed with development, what happens? Well, hundreds of thousands of people may die from rising sea levels (although recent evidence has emerged that the Pacific floor is deepening from long-term tectonic development). Many more may starve as agricultural zones become arid wastelands (even as arid wastelands become fertile agricultural zones, with higher outputs from increased CO2). Or not. These things remain a projection of a warming trend that, for the past fifteen years or so, has largely disappeared (or, as scientists — who demand precise and unambiguous language would have it — “stalled”).
These are predictions by people who may have the best of intentions, but a who also have a somewhat endearing and childlike faith in their own computer models, as well as a deeply-ingrained messianic belief that if they need to scare the bejeezus oout of everyone to get them to do the riight thing, so be it. Against these hypotheses — and thus far, that is all they are — we have these very real and achievable benefits that result from a long-term, large scale development of the nation’s hydrocarbon assets. These benefits can be obtained through a disciplined and tightly-focused mandate to open assets like the Green River formation to exploration and development by private industry, with the following strictly-observed and enforced conditions:
All leasing revenues, royalties and other income derived from the leaseholds be dedicated without exception to three distinct mandates: pay down the national debt; research and develop technologies for improving hydrocarbon energy efficiency and lowering emissions; and research and develop viable alternative energy technologies. Further, all natural gas produced by such exploration should be earmarked and mandated for export, preserving the current domestic natural gas pricing structure from disruption and from plunging the majority of current producing properties into unprofitable territory.
So — back to where we started.
Pay down the national debt yet lower taxes at the same time.
Up until now, the asset side of our national balance sheet has simply ignored the vast natural resources owned by the federal government, including the oil and natural gas reserves of federal lands. Opening up these resources to responsible development allows us to monetize these assets in a responsible manner with remarkable benefits accruing to future generations, who will no longer be saddled with the astonishing burden of debt now accruing to their accounts. Further, legislative dedication of leasing and royalty revenues goes a long way to protect this honey-pot of a revenue stream from the armies of boodlers who will do their level best to build sluicegates for their own benefit upstream.
Create up to 1 million new highly-paid and long-lasting jobs.
The employment requirements of such an effort will resound through the entire structure of the American economy, from actual on-site labor and research and development and manufacture of technology and equipment required for extraction to revitalizing American shipyards (LNG tankers will be required in vast numbers) and developing infrastructure (roads, bridges, power facilities and so forth).
Fund hundreds of billions in non-carbon energy research and development. One of the few excuses for the zealotry of the climate change folks is the possibility that they sincerely believe that tomorrow requires a non-carbon energy source, because it does. Sooner or later, we’re going too run out of it. But it will take trillions of dollars in R&D to bring the world to a point where it can survive without carbon-based energy, and it may be that the only way we can get governments and their citizens to fund that kind of expense is by scaring the piss out of them. Dedicating a significant portion of the revenue stream from Green River projects can provide substantial support for useful and practical alt-energy projects (hint: no windmills) and perhaps lower the volume from those convinced that their weather models work better than the ones that have failed so hilariously thus far.
Destroy Russia’s energy stranglehold over western Europe.
Can you imagine Putin’s rage if he knew we had embarked on a long-term project to shut Russia’s gas pipelines to Western Europe off? This one’s a gimme.
Badly damage OPEC’s ability to control global energy pricing.
Ditto. Estimates are shaky, but if the Green River formation extractable reserves are in fact as large as all of Saudi Arabia’s, this is a real game-changer. Venezuela, take note.
Provide hundreds of thousands of kids with college degrees that actually get them jobs.
The development of projects on a scale like Green River, along with the complementary excursions into carbon-reduction tech and alt-energy R&D, will require a very large number of highly-trained technical personnel: engineers of all stripes and colors, chemists, programmers — the full array of scientific and applied technical skills. Herein we find a potential solution to another nagging problem: higher education.
Over the past several years, corporate America has initiated a successful but still nascent partnership with a wide network of community colleges. The primary thrust of this effort has been to encourage and subsidize the role of the colleges as training centers for technically-skilled personnel, in order to address the problems corporate America has found in identifying and employing suitably-trained employees.
The demand for these types of personnel will be sufficiently vast as to encourage a much broader scale development of these kinds of partnerships, which replace student loans and government subsidies with corporate investment in program development and tuition subsidy. This in turn can serve as a working model extending well beyond the technology sphere to include partnerships between higher education institutions and a fully-diversified portfolio of businesses, ranging from areas as unlikely as entertainment and hospitality to health care and etail.
If this seems far-fetched, it may be useful to recall that universities — including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale — were once viewed primarily as training centers for the clergy, and the curriculum centered chiefly on theology, the classics (Latin, Greek, Sanskrit) and perhaps a smattering of mathematics. In fact, when Newton attended Oxford, there were no courses offered in what later came to be known as the “natural sciences.”
The industrial revolution, with its demand for metallurgists, chemists, physicists, architects, engineers, bankers, geologists and managers changed all that. Now we find ourselves still in the embryonic phase of a new technological era, with a similar shift in what we require in the way of skills. Some people have failed to understand exactly where we are in this process, and fail to comprehend just how little has changed in our world thus far compared to the changes that are coming. What is for certain is that the ability to survive, compete and prosper in this brave new world will require a vastly different approach to higher education, even as the current model shows undeniable signs of cracking at the seams.
It may be ironic, but is still highly likely, that the future of higher education be defined by this new revolution, still so poorly defined, in the way we will live and work. But it leads to an interesting question:
Those who oppose the further development of carbon-based energy sources plead for the future of our children. Which path serves them better? The blind denial of all the benefits this development can convey, in exchange for some loosely-constructed and thus far poorly-projected protection from a purely hypothetical climate theory and theology? Or does in lie in securing their financial security, their national security, their proper place in an evolutionary society and the promise of abundant and responsibly-managed energy?
We are well aware that the concepts here are not nearly as simple or clean as we would wish. There are difficulties and objections to almost everything proposed herein. But the difficulties can be explored and solved, the objections examined and addressed. There has never been anything worthwhile undertaken without similar deficiencies at their outset. Our history is studded like a tiara with great tasks that have been accepted and overcome, many of which dwarf in scale and scope the ones presented here. Certainly, if we could do what we have done already, these challenges can also be completed. It simply takes the vision to embrace them, and the will to solve them.
Think about it. Cleaner air, a better future, and a torrent of cash. Now that’s a green river.