It should not be surprising to any that a recent ExxonMobil campaign featuring a quiz about America’s energy future puts a heavy emphasis on fossil fuels. The campaign gives the politically appropriate nod to the need for a wide variety of energy sources to meet demand the company says will grow by 35 percent by 2040. But the principle purpose of the campaign is to promote the belief that the oil and gas industry can meet any and all demands for energy in the decades to come.
To be fair, the fossil fuel industry is due some congratulations. In a relatively short period of time, the sector has used new technology to significantly boost production. The DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated back in October that the United States will be the world’s top producer of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons in 2013, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia. The EIA says that since 2008, U.S. petroleum production has increased 7 quadrillion Btu, with dramatic growth in Texas and North Dakota. Natural gas production has jumped by 3 quadrillion Btu over the same period, with much of the growth coming from the eastern states.
But for the U.S. oil and gas industry to suggest – as it has historically done – that it can assure the nation’s energy future is, frankly, an insult to the intelligence of American consumers. The claim ignores the fact that all fossil fuels are ultimately finite: We’re not going to be regenerating in decades the resources that took millions of years to come into creation. And it ignores the consequences and costs of developing these new-found fossil fuel resources.
There are fewer and fewer discoveries of deposits in recent years when “conventional” oil could be recovered with long-time drilling technology. It’s a downward trend that marks the beginning of the end of “easy” oil. The new technology and drilling practices, such as “fracking,” requires vast amounts of energy and billions of gallons of water to pump the “unconventional” oil and gas from the shale rock formations in North Dakota, Pennsylvania and other parts of the country that have contributed to the recent fossil fuel boom. Besides the drain on groundwater reserves, this new technology is proving to be a major source of greenhouse gas emissions that only add to the emissions generated by the burning of petroleum products.
Are we going to run out of fossil fuels tomorrow? No. But even with the recent boom, the finite nature of petroleum resources is becoming increasingly obvious. U.S. policy makers over the past decade have agreed to pursue alternatives, especially renewable resources, to meet what will be the most pressing challenge facing the world as this century progresses: How do we meet the energy needs of a global population expected to climb from 7 billion to more than 9 billion over the next three decades?
Those needs can only be met with the policies and funding mechanisms that promote the development of unlimited sources of energy – solar power, wind energy, hydropower, biofuels, biomass (for power generation), geothermal power, and other land-based solutions, as well as the storage technology that maintains the reliability of these resources.
The Renewable Fuel Standard, the energy title of the farm bill, production and investment tax credits for wind, solar, advanced biofuel and other alternative energy projects, and state Renewable Portfolio Standards are among the policy steps that have helped make clean energy a major player in the nation’s energy strategy.
Despite the assurances from the oil and gas industry, it is foolish to think that our national energy strategy can be based on a single solution. Now is not the time to stray from the all-of-the-above strategy in meeting our energy needs. In addition to unlimited energy supplies, renewables, which are dropping in price and becoming more competitive with fossil fuels, offer the benefits of increased economic activity and job creation. They offer a more resolute path to our energy security. And they ultimately improve our environment by severely reducing the level of emissions that impact our atmosphere.
As we move into a new year, 25x’25 invites stakeholders to come together and join our grassroots army in mounting a campaign that reminds elected officials and policy makers at all levels of the critical need to diversify our energy resources. Let’s make 2014 a year that alters the political and policy landscape and insures this nation and the world are on track to a sustainable energy future.