The United States has had an extremely difficult time perfecting an energy policy that makes sense. The bill forming Department of Energy was signed into law in 1977. There are some good things that came out this in the form of standardization and unification of power distribution into the regional, national, and (with Canada) international power grid. However, one of the main goals given the DOE at its formation was to lead the US to energy self-sufficiency.
After more than a quarter century, we are more dependent on foreign oil than ever.
This wouldn’t be surprising if we had no energy resources. However, we are one of the most energy-rich countries in the world. We own more in-the-ground fossil fuel, than any country. We own vast deposits of uranium. We have great potential for more hydroelectric production. We have many resources for other alternative sources of energy. To understand our place in the energy world, consider these facts:
Total US Oil Reserves:
21 billion barrels proven reserves (CIA World Factbook)
134 billion barrels other estimated recoverable reserves (US Dept. of Interior)
0.727 billion barrels strategic petroleum reserves (CIA World Factbook)
155.727 billion barrels total US recoverable reserves
Other Fossil Fuels
2,175 billion barrels of recoverable oil in shale (Bureau of Land Management)
4116 billion equivalent barrels of oil in recoverable US Coal reserves (US DOE)
Adding the estimated recoverable reserves to the proven reserves, the United States ranks third among all nations in the size of our oil reserves, slightly behind Saudi Arabia, and Canada.
The US contains the largest coal and shale oil deposits in the world. The US has 161% more oil in shale than in the total world oil reserves. Even more amazing, there is enough energy in known US coal reserves alone to eclipse that of all the oil on earth by 400%.
Processing petroleum from oil shell involves mining the oil-bearing shale, crushing the stone, and passing it through a high temperature retort. We currently have the technology to do this, but because it is only competitive when the petroleum price is high, the technological development has not yet advanced into research on reducing the cost of production.
One technique that may make the process competitive with deep well petroleum is that of in situ retorting in which the oil shell is reached by drilling shafts through which heat is pumped releasing the oil which is then pumped to the surface. Certainly, as world oil prices go up oil shell will not only be viable, but attractive.
The myth that oil from coal is not economically feasible has been disproven by South Africa. During the years of the world trade embargo against apartheid, coal-rich South Africa developed a process, and built several plants, each of which produce about 100,000 barrels of oil per day. The Chinese are in process of building as many as 27 of these plants in various parts of China.
Beyond the possibility of converting coal to gasoline, coal holds the spot as the number one producer of electricity in the United States. Even with the huge environmental burden, taxation, and political interference coal still remains the mainstay of the electric industry and one of the most important sources of heat for buildings. When the battery and quick charge technology is finally perfected to have total electric vehicles, it will be coal energy in the form of power grid electricity that drives those cars.
So why can’t we do what South Africa did? Why can’t our oil reserves produce the in range of Saudi Arabia or Canada? Why can’t we get research going to make our Shale oil reserves competitive?
I don’t think it is the fault of the DOE. I think it is the fault of some bad policy coming out of other parts of our federal mega-bureaucracy.
Politically and militarily we had strategic reasons to buy from other countries – if we use their oil, we are saving ours for future use, and we became such a valuable customer to oil producing countries they became our “friends” during the cold war. Both of those are probably valid strategies, and both served their purpose; but they also helped drive us to foreign energy dependency.
However, that was not the reason that US oil production dropped precipitously over the years. The main reason was environmental. In part this was caused by regulations by the EPA, and by such things as species protection. But way beyond that was the general liberal mindset against profits from big companies, distribution of wealth through taxation, excessive time and legal interference on new permitting, and outright banning of drilling in large tracts of known oil reserves. It became too costly and extremely time consuming to do exploratory drilling and to sink new wells into currently producing fields. The Global Warming fiasco with the almost unanimous blind support of the left just about did in the fossil fuel producers in America.
If we had taken half the so called “stimulus” money and put it directly into increased domestic fuel production, we would have seen the economy turn around, and energy cost, thus the cost of everything else, going down. Our number one priority should be to become energy independent as soon as possible, and number two should be to start advancing our energy technologies in all areas.