Op-Ed: Towards An Energy-independent Future
After the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973-1974, Richard Nixon became the first link in an unbroken chain of U.S. presidents to declare war on our dependence on foreign energy. At the time he delivered his 1974 State of the Union Address, surging oil prices had triggered a crash in the stock market and an outbreak of severe economic pain. "Let this be our national goal," he proclaimed, "in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need." Thirty-six years and seven presidents later, the goal of energy independence remains elusive.
In 1973, we imported roughly 35 percent of our oil. Today we import over 60 percent. As a result, the U. S. economy in 2010 remains beholden to the whims of anti-American dictators and the instability of the Middle East and Africa. But that does not mean we should accept this fate as inevitable. While there is certainly reason for despair, there is equal reason for hope.
The good news is that we have all the natural resources, manpower and innovative minds we need to achieve a self-sufficient energy future. The bad news is that many of our elected leaders lack the will to lift the regulatory barricade preventing it from happening. America sits on a virtual sea of energy resources that can be tapped to heat our homes, sustain our businesses, provide sustainable jobs and power our means of transportation.
With an emphasis on innovation, safety and eco-friendly technology, we can increasingly turn to domestic sources to secure the affordable and reliable energy needed to grow our economy.
* Renewables account for about 8 percent of total U. S. energy consumption. Looking to the future, America must continue to invest in and explore the possibilities of solar, hydro, geothermal and wind.
* Nuclear energy is clean and extremely efficient. Virginia's two reactors -- North Anna and Surry -- typically provide about one-third of the electricity generated within the commonwealth, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Other countries are using nuclear power as their primary source of energy.
* Petroleum will be a large part of our energy program in the medium term. Whether in Alaska, off the coasts of the mainland, or in the shale fields of the American West, several hundred billion barrels of recoverable oil are awaiting government approval.
* Natural gas -- which heats about one-third of the homes in Virginia -- is growing more plentiful by the day. A string of promising discoveries of shale gas fields has boosted our recoverable reserves by about 35 percent in recent years, according to a report last year by the Potential Gas Committee.
* Coal is far more prevalent in the United States than anywhere else in the world. America holds one quarter of the world's coal reserves -- enough, according to the Institute for Energy Research, to last at least another 200-250 years.
Virginia also accounts for nearly 10 percent of U.S. coal production east of the Mississippi River. We should pursue new and innovative ways to utilize coal. America's decision makers have a choice. Will we continue to pay mere lip service to energy independence? Or will we do everything in our power to harness America's God-given energy potential? Most opponents of natural gas, nuclear, petroleum and coal reflexively decry the environmental risks of expanded production. But they routinely sweep under the rug two critical points. First, if energy resources are not developed here at home -- where they will create millions of jobs -- they will be produced elsewhere. Second, if they are produced elsewhere, the ramifications for our planet are likely to be far worse since we have better technology and a far cleaner environmental track record than other nations (this is true in spite of the tragic recent spill in the Gulf).
Our national goal is to one day satisfy our energy needs through the affordable production of only the cleanest sources of energy. As we innovate and work to make that vision a reality, we must update our regulatory framework so that we can safely develop all of our energy potential.