Letters to the Editor

Energy future, costs won’t get any better | Letter


We hear about free enterprise and American energy independence by reading Don Brunell’s guest column in the Whidbey News-Times.

Mr. Brunell writes to us from Vancouver, Wash. He seems to think that we are achieving American energy independence with a boost from home-grown technology but that we better watch out for the snake oil of renewable energy and the like.

Mr. Brunell’s latest column, “Independence means curbing dependence,” appeared on the eve of this year’s Fourth of July celebration. Once again, he touts the benefits of domestic petroleum extracted from shale formations.

I agree that U.S. technology for bringing in oil from shale is impressive. Many of the wells are as deep as Mount Baker is tall — and the wells not only go straight down, they travel horizontally for miles.

Shale oil extraction is impressive and provides some hope for energy security, but the geology of shale oil and gas makes the resource very expensive. With shale oil, we’re drilling and pumping far below the “easy” oil and gas found in the reservoirs I heard so much about as a kid — the oil of “wildcatters.”

Increasingly, we’re into the petroleum of “source rock.” Below the tightly held petroleum in source rock, there’s just “rock rock” — zero petroleum.

These deep wells cost several million dollars each, minimum.

They have rapid production decline rates; they produce less than half as much on average after the first year.

Not only is there a limited supply of shale petroleum, but national and international energy agencies project that U.S. production as a whole will decline by 2020. The trend is for petroleum costs to go up, not down.

This will weigh on American family budgets and our economy.

Perversely, a gallon of gasoline this Fourth of July holiday costs the most of any year since 2008 —  the culmination year for a series of bursting financial bubbles, temporarily causing crude oil prices to go to $145/barrel.

The U.S. may be more energy secure today with domestic production at 3 million barrels more a day than in 2008, but our exposure to international oil price shocks has changed very little.

I wouldn’t be bringing up Brunell’s column if I thought our energy future and costs were going to get better. World petroleum supply — of which we are a part — is precarious.

The net benefit of business-as-usual with fossil fuels is also running down with each passing year.

Consider the effects of fossil fuels on our health, energy security and climate. How clean are our oceans, drinking water and the air with fossil fuel extraction, transportation and burning?

We need to accelerate our transition to alternatives to fossil fuels just as fast as we can.

We get 100 percent upbeat messages about fossil fuel from the national Chamber of Commerce and related state business associations.

Will we be lulled into consuming fossil fuels as if they are getting cheaper and permanently plentiful? Fossil fuels are no longer like a starburst firework on the Fourth of July.

We need to be careful what we wrap in “red, white and blue” … to impart cachet, when the net worth of fossil fuels is not what it used to be.

Lee James


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