NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 28, 2010

President Barack Obama isn't going to level with Americans on energy.  Instead, he holds a gleaming vision of an America that should convert to the "clean" energy of, presumably, wind, solar and biomass.   This isn't going to happen for many, many decades, if ever, says columnist Robert J. Samuelson. 

For starters, we won't soon end our addiction to fossil fuels: 

  • Oil, coal and natural gas now supply about 85 percent of America's energy needs.
  • The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects energy consumption to grow only an average of 0.5 percent annually from 2008 to 2035, but that's still a 14 percent cumulative increase.
  • Fossil fuel usage would increase slightly in 2035 and its share would still account for 78 percent of the total. 

Unless we shut down the economy, we need fossil fuels.  More efficient light bulbs, energy saving appliances, cars with higher gas mileage may all dampen energy use.  However: 

  • Offsetting these savings are more people (391 million vs. 305 million), more households (147 million vs. 113 million), more vehicles (297 million vs. 231 million) and a bigger economy (almost double in size).
  • Although wind, solar and biomass are assumed to grow up to 10 times faster than overall energy use, they will provide only 11 percent of the supply in 2035, up from 5 percent in 2008. 

Meanwhile, it's imperative to tap domestic oil and natural gas.  This creates jobs and limits our dependence on insecure imports.  Drilling advances have opened vast reserves of natural gas trapped in shale ("shale gas").  Human error and corner-cutting by BP seem the main causes of the spill.  Given the industry's previously strong safety record, Obama's six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling isn't justified and should be shortened.  It's not industry lobbyists that sustain fossil fuels but the reality that they're economically and socially necessary, says Samuelson. 

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "Energy Pipedreams," Real Clear Politics, June 21, 2010. 

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