The most real and present danger to the security — indeed, the survival — of the United States is the advent of peak oil (the time when the oil-producing nations’ declining output can no longer meet the rising demand of the oil-consuming nations). The condition is imminent (even Forbes Magazine admits the possibility: “Has Peak Oil Come To The Non-Opec World? Maybe.”) and its effects will be catastrophic. The sudden absence, or extreme cost, of a substance whose abundance and cheapness provide the foundation of our entire economy can hardly be imagined. So the American energy industry, aided and abetted by its wholly-owned politicians, is doing everything possible to make it worse.
Even George Bush was allowed to speak of our addiction to oil, although he did it in the manner of the two-pack-a-day smoker who admits to his addiction, then shrugs and lights up. And even oil-industry commercials speak of the chimera of energy independence, suggesting that if we just drilled enough wells we would be okay (an idea equivalent to the health benefits of “lite” cigarettes, to the aforementioned smoker).
The industry’s ongoing challenge has been to channel the growing public awareness of the coming disaster of peak oil away from actually doing anything about it. Any serious effort to prepare for it would interfere with the major profits to be made from the last few barrels. As the spinmeisters toil on, to paraphrase a Willie Nelson song, sometimes they lie.
The industry has three pieces de resistance to offer those who are feeling the first well-justified pangs of panic.
- “There’s a Saudi Arabia of natural gas right under our feet.” That’s not working out well for anyone, but we’ve dealt with that elsewhere. Today let’s concentrate on 2) and 3).
- “There’s a Saudi Arabia of oil right over the border in Canadian tar sand.” Apparently it would be less dependent of us to depend on Canada for our oil: they’re nicer than Arabs, and they’re closer, in case we have to invade.
- “There’s a Saudi Arabia of coal right under our feet.” Dirty, yes, but we’re dealing with that by running lots of ads that say it’s clean. Finite and non-renewable, yes, but we are successfully ignoring that because oil is more finite.
With respect to item 2), the industry proposes to bolster our energy independence (also referred to as our energy security) by building an enormous pipeline to bring the Canadian oil into America. Now, let’s be reasonable here:
- let’s ignore the fact that the amount of energy it takes to heat the tar sands and release the oil is almost as much energy as the oil contains;
- let’s take comfort from the fact that the awesome quantities of water required and the vast acreage chewed up by the process are Canada’s problems, not ours;
- let’s set aside the danger of accidents and leakage from an oil pipeline across our breadbasket, and our largest aquifer;
- and let’s forget that the tar sands are also a finite, exhaustible, non-renewable resource whose consumption will contribute mightily to pollution and global climate change.
There, that wasn’t so hard. Now, having done all that, can we not admit (remembering to forget everything we agreed to forget) that the pipeline will be good for our energy security?
Well maybe, if it weren’t for the fact that the pipeline is designed to run straight to Port Arthur, Texas, where its heavy crude is destined to be refined into diesel fuel and exported to Europe, Latin America and Asia. That’s according to a bombshell report issued last week by Oil Change International.
“To issue a presidential permit for the Keystone XL, the Administration must find that the pipeline serves the national interest,” said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International. “An honest assessment shows that rather than serving U.S. interests, Keystone XL serves only the interests of tar sands producers and shippers, and a few Gulf Coast refiners aiming to export the oil.”
Well, then, how about item 3)? The coal companies will save us, right? After all, whenever we object to their killing people in mines, or scraping the tops off mountains and dumping them in valleys, or to the air pollution with which their product is sickening the planet, they tell us it’s the price of energy security. And, nasty as the product is, there will undoubtedly be some left after all the oil is gone.
Unless it has been sold to China, which is what the industry is hell-bent on doing. As the Sacramento Bee reported last week, Peabody Coal Company is trying to get approval to build a deep-water port in Bellingham, Washington capable of exporting 48 million tons of coal a year. Arch Coal tried a similar plan last year, but got caught lying about its intentions (gasp! They lie?) and had to withdraw.
Aside from the irony (David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council observed that “China is exporting iPads to us, and we’re sending rocks to them.”) there is a deeper significance to the coal company’s intentions. It is this: when the oil has run out, as it will, and we turn to the last remnants of coal to warm us in the gathering night, we will hear the words of another song, this one by John Prine:
“I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking.
Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”
[For updates on this and other Daily Impact stories, and for short takes on other subjects, check out The Editor’s Log.]