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May 13, 2010

Energy Requires Safety First

Patricia A. Kelly

Energy: the capacity for vigorous activity, or so says Webster’s Dictionary. There certainly has been a lot expended lately, largely around the recent huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.


From those screaming, “No more drilling!” to executives attempting to create subtle shifts in blame, to the imagined anguish of shore birds covered in oil, to environmentalist reports, to business people about to lose a lot of money, this latest incident has, rightly, caused an uproar.


Although drilling technology has come a long way in recent years, clean up for oil spills appears about the same as 40 years ago. That’s about the only thing that hasn’t changed since I was in high school. And why not?


Although I’m way too much of a lady to mention this, who’s been in bed with whom all these years that we don’t have better cleanup technology by now, not to mention mine safety, not to even mention a workable energy plan?


We’ve known since Richard Nixon’s days in Washington that we need to decrease dependence on foreign oil. About 57% of the oil we use still comes from foreign sources. We’ve had 30 years to get away from this, in a country rich in resources and inventiveness. Why haven’t we?


We remain the world’s biggest user of oil, over 19 million barrels a year. It’s our number one source of energy at 37 percent, with coal and natural gas behind in line, at 23 and 24 percent each. Nine percent of our fuel comes from nuclear energy, and only seven percent from renewable energy sources.


We are a large, industrial country, with a lot of space to cover, and, over most of our area, a climate that demands heat and cooling; so it is natural that we would use a lot of energy. It’s kind of silly to shout, “No more drilling!” without an “and” behind it to propose what to do instead. At the same time, we have long needed to turn away from the status quo.


To be secure as a nation, we must provide our own energy.


No one wants production in their backyards unless it‘s their very own personal oil well. A recent example of this is the continuing protests in Massachusetts over the proposed offshore wind farm. I get that, because I’ve seen wind farms in Texas. Unobtrusive they’re not. But production has to happen somewhere other than the third world and Saudi Arabia.


President Barack Obama wants the United States to move to renewable energy use, and that’s a good idea. The only things wrong with it are that we’re in a recession now, without sufficient funds available to pay for conversion, and we are starting with seven percent of our energy use coming from renewables. That can’t be fixed overnight, and it can best be fixed by the private sector.


What we need to do is to clean up our safety act while, at least temporarily, tapping into our own natural gas supply, and continuing to drill for oil. This will make us more secure and independent of the whims of our enemies – and our friends – around the world. Then, as we can afford to, we must convert to renewable energy resources.


This has to take place in our own backyards, along with increased energy conservation and effective recycling and material reuse. Let’s turn the recent tragedies, both in the Gulf and in the West Virginia mine, into inspirations to do better, in technology, national security, and conservation.


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