Don’t Drill My Baby’s Oil

Posted on November 20th, 2012

Domestic sources of energy are our most valued assets. Our economy depends on energy. National security, public safety, commerce, and food production rely on energy. It is well recognized that we need to reduce reliance energy imports, primarily oil. We need to become energy independent in order to reduce volatility of energy prices that hinder our economy today, and in order to secure a long term future for this country.

Expanding our capacity to produce domestic energy is an opportunity to transition to more renewable energy sources. We need energy options that recycle carbon. Solar, wind, and biomass are viable options to produce energy that bypass the climate-changing risk of extracting fossil carbon from permanent underground reserves. Much has been written about the environmental need for renewable fuels.

For those of you more inclined to follow fiscal policy over environmental policy, let me present the case of fossil fuels as our energy savings account and renewable fuels as our energy income stream. It took hundreds of millions of years for nature to store energy in fossil fuel reserves. We have built a wealthy economy by withdrawing from this savings account. The balance in this account is shrinking. We have significantly drawn down those reserves, particularly petroleum reserves. While we make continual withdrawals from this underground energy savings account, no new deposits are being made. New ways to extract fossil fuels do not create additions to our savings portfolio. New extraction techniques merely accelerate the rate at which we make withdraws. A new oil well is like an ATM machine. It doesn’t make you richer; it merely makes it easier to drain your account. Without an income stream, these withdrawals make us poorer faster.

In contrast to our fossil energy savings account, renewable fuels provide a perpetual income stream that can power economic growth. Every day, the sun provides ten thousand times more energy than we consume. The income is there for the taking. We need only to invest in ways to capture and store that energy in useful forms. Instead of building more fossil fuel ATMs, we need to build more windmills, solar collectors, and biomass conversion techniques. These investments produce immediate jobs and long term energy revenue.

The rallying cry of fossil fuel advocates to: “Drill, baby. Drill” is an attempted raid on the assets of future generations. The slogan should be interpreted literally. My baby daughter is almost two years old. My advice to her and her generation is, “Drill, baby girl. Drill, if you need to.” Use your savings account wisely. My generation used a lot of fossil fuel. We pumped our wells dry. We tried to save some un-tapped oil for you to use when national security is threatened. Your savings account is valuable. Your reserves give you a tool to mitigate the volatility of global oil prices. Without reserves of your own, you would be completely helpless against the price fixing of oil exporting countries.

My advice to our generation is to drill only with extreme caution. Do not expect to significantly lower prices by raiding our oil savings account. Our domestic oil trades on the global market, which is not a free market. The price of oil is manipulated by a cartel that schemes to gain political and economic power over oil-addicted countries. We should certainly be cautious about drilling in ecologically sensitive areas, and we should be slow to extract carbon-intensive forms of petroleum. There are significant environmental penalties for early withdrawal of unconventional resources like tar sands. Future technology for accessing those reserves is likely to be more efficient and less damaging. These should be the last resources that we tap. If we are at the point where we are so desperate for oil that we are willing to destroy our environment, then we are certainly at the point where renewables are essential.

Now is the time to invest heavily in renewable fuels. We can create jobs and wealth. We can retain our valuable fossil energy savings account for future generations. We can protect the environment and make our country fiscally stronger. Invest, people. Invest!

Don Scott serves as the Director of Sustainability for the National Biodiesel Board.

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