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Feb 242011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You  may or may not agree with T. Boone Pickens’ theory that natural gas is the best bridge fuel to the future.

Some people, especially those living atop “fracked” and soon-to-be fracked gas shale formations, worry that drilling can contaminate water supplies and emit harmful air pollution. For them, the fact that natural gas burns much cleaner than gasoline does not adequately compensate for these environmental threats.

Still, there’s no arguing that the celebrated Texas oilman makes a strong point about America’s costly oil dependence.

He has been arguing for years that we are paying for both sides of our wars in the Middle East. We pay to outfit our military, and we underwrite the opposition by buying their oil.

The stupidity of that cycle is hard to match. (Burning forests for toilet paper, killing sharks just for their fins and feeding cattle grain that makes them, and later, us, sick  are a few similarly stupid activities that come to mind.)

Lately the futility of our Middle East adventures is coming into stark relief. If we were ever there to promulgate democracy, it sure appears this month as if we did a poor job of it. Democracy is breaking out across the Arab world – wherever we aren’t fighting.

We seem to have been almost as bad at ferreting out terrorists. Need we examine how well we’ve protected our oil interests? By the time we get that down, it could be sunset for oil supplies, a thought that keeps T. Boone and many others on edge.

Civil unrest in Libya, combined with other world events, may hasten the U.S. day of reckoning. Yesterday, when the price of Texas intermediate crude oil leaped over the benchmark of $100 a barrel, newscasts carried stories about rising gas prices at the pump.

T. Boone took the opportunity to issue another warning:

“I predicted we would see $100 oil by end of the first quarter and now – less than two months into the new year – it’s here,” he said.

“The unrest in Libya has sent prices soaring and there will be no end in sight if we continue to be dependent on oil from unfriendly nations.  The U.S. is now spending around $1.2 billion a day to import oil. There was never any question instability elsewhere would raise oil prices, the only question is: Why didn’t we do anything to protect ourselves from it?  We can no longer afford to stand by and watch this happen as our national security is put at risk.”

T. Boone’s solution is part of his Pickens Plan, in which he proposes to convert transport trucks to natural gas.

Pickens wants Congress and the Obama Administration to fuel heavy-duty trucks with natural gas so “we can immediately reduce our dependence on OPEC oil, which in turn will improve national security while also strengthening our economy.”

“Getting off OPEC oil and onto our own resources should be the number one priority in America. We cannot continue to let what is happening in other countries dramatically impact our economy here in the United States.  We use more oil than anyone else and we have no energy plan.  The solution is right in front of us and now is the time to get serious and put a plan in place.”

All this would, of course, benefit Pickens, whose holdings include natural gas leases as well as compressor stations. But it could be mutually beneficial, providing a way to step off gasoline quicker, by expanding low-emissions options beyond the electric vehicles that will take years to scale up.

It’s also likely to trigger more domestic clashes over where gas wells can and cannot be built. New York residents are worried about their Hudson Valley watershed. Many Texans are rejecting gas companies that have commenced drilling near neighborhoods and schools (disclosure: I live in one of those cities). This urban drilling already jeopardizes air quality and water aquifers in several communities. Air monitors have recorded low, but consistent, levels of benzene and many other chemicals in the air. Farmers have reported wells contaminated with methane apparently released by nearby drilling. Many opponents of this urban drilling are aghast at the millions of gallons of water it takes to “frack” just one well (underground deposits are forced open with a blast of injected water and chemicals).

If natural gas is going to be the bridge fuel of choice for vehicles, then we also will need the Administration to step in and assure that drillers do a better job of capturing air emissions, reclaiming as much water as possible, reducing the toxic chemicals injected into the well and drilling strategically, away from urban centers and rural water wells. The cost of this regulation: A drop in the bucket compared with the cost of the war, which at last check was about $775 billion for operations in Iraq and $380 billion in Afghanistan.

More importantly, for those of us left a little queasy by these imperfect choices, we need to get the next bridge fuel in our sites. That means advocating for wind, solar and geothermal power, which are truly renewable, and can power electric cars and much more.

Finally, we must step up our own efforts to use green power at home, add energy saving devices wherever we can, and drive less and more efficiently.

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