Friday, October 5, 2012

Energy Security: Vital to a Nations Independence

This is the fourth part of the series on Energy Security.

Part IV

Barriers to Energy Security.

In the previous parts of this series we discussed how Energy Security is vital to our National Security, how much energy is available, and broke down the costs associated with the energy we use.  We have focused on Oil, but that is far from the only source of energy available.  In this part we will look at the obstacles facing Energy Security.

There are two major categories of Energy Sources.  The first category is the Fossil Fuels.  Fossil Fuels include Oil, Natural Gas, and Coal. The second category is Alternative Fuels. Alternative Fuels include Bio-Fuels (ethanol, methanol, etc), Wind, Solar, and Nuclear.  Each of these energy sources face Technological, Economic, and Regulatory barriers.

Technological barriers are the easiest of all barriers to overcome.  15 years ago oil in North Dakota was considered non-recoverable. Prior to that time oil was drilled vertically.  You drilled straight down.  The difficulty with a well of this type was you needed to position the well directly over your target.  It would take many wells, on many different pieces of property to recover the oil.  Then along came horizontal drilling. With a horizontal well you could drill to multiple sources from one piece of property.  It was not only more economically feasible, but it was environmentally friendly.

Economic barriers are often the greatest barrier.  Recovering coal or oil that costs more than can be bought from other sources does not make sense. As pointed out with the North Dakota example above, the horizontal drilling resulted in economically feasible recoverable oil.

The overwhelmingly greatest barrier to Energy Security are the Regulatory Barriers.  Before any energy undertaking can begin the legal battle must be fought. This is fairly easy at the state and local level, however, when the Federal Government gets involved the idea of Energy Security is replaced with political agendas. It is here we discover that an economically feasible endeavor becomes too expensive for the market.  This is not to say there should not be regulations, but as with most Federal Regulations they over step common sense and dance into "What If".

Fossil Fuels
The Great Satan

There are certain truths about Fossil Fuels that must be considered.  They are dirty when compared with some Alternative sources.  The recovery, refining, and use of Fossil Fuels do indeed have hazardous bi-products. These bi-products include sulfur, radiation, nitrates, and mercury (to name just a few). There is also a direct impact on the land used during recovery.  This is especially true of coal.  There is no escaping the fact that Fossil Fuels are not as clean as other forms of energy and they are not a renewable resource. It is also true that they are not as dirty as some would have you believe. 

Coal provides 49.61% of the electricity in the United States.  Oil (3.03%) and natural gas (18.77%) provide 20.80% of the electricity generated in the U.S. In total Fossil Fuels provide over 60% of the electricity generated in the U.S. 
The Great 
"What If"

Like many educated people I count on the principles of science to describe the world around me.  Although the Scientific Method begins with a "What If...", it quickly moves to the "What is...".  The greatest "What if" involves Global Warming...more specifically Human Caused Global Warming (HCGW).

The "What If" of HCGW is based on the premise that human activity contributes to Global Warming. This is a scientifically sound principle..everything on earth is intertwined and will affect the environment in either a positive, or negative way.  However, the "What If" of HCGW exponentially expands from speculation of a contribution by existence, to a major cause of Global Warming.  It is in this stretch that HCGW jumps from science to politics.

By far the most common argument among those that support the HCGW idea is..."The Vast Majority of Scientists agree that humans are the major contributor to Global Warming." Once upon a time the Vast Majority of Scientists also agreed that the Earth was flat and the Sun orbited the Earth.  Luckily for us you don't vote on the truth of science...but many people will vote on the Politics of Science.  For the sake of argument we will assume that the Great "What if" is true.  How does that affect Energy Security?

Satan, The Great What If and Energy Security.
The Quest for Alternative Energy.

A very good friend of mine in Montana is at the forefront in the quest for alternatives to Oil. He is an innovator of new lubricants that are affordable, renewable, and have minimal impact on the environment.  He has spent the last 15 years and large sums of money attempting to tackle one aspect of of the Energy equation.  He uses organic materials to create his lubricants..this means he grows them on his farm.  

So far he has created a lubricant that will work under certain environmental factors..sadly the environment they will work in, is not found in Montana.  Although his lubricant is renewable, its impact on the environment is unknown...and it is not affordable.  I have yet to see any new technology that is initially affordable. 

The technological ability of an alternative source of energy to be effective requires that it be economically feasible.  If we could use corn as a method to supply our energy needs, make that corn burn super clean, it would be of little use if it cost $10 a gallon and pushes the price of food up.

The extremes of the HCGW debates are all or nothing views.  This is not an intelligent, or even secure point of view. The environmentalists would have everyone believe that energy producers want to destroy the environment.   On the other hand there are those who want to just drill or dig for energy. They both want to scare you into making irrational choices. Fear is not a good position to be in when making security decisions.

Drill, Dig, Nuke, Windmill, Solar Panel, and Who Knows What Else?

When deciding your best course, you should know where you are.  At present the machines of human life run on fossil fuels.  These are the same machines that put the Western World at the top of the game.  Nuclear power is a cheap alternative that could replace the use of Oil and Coal as forms of Energy. Wind and solar energy is in its infancy, but they too show an ability to create viable power systems. 

By removing the irrational regulatory barriers to fossil fuels we buy enough time to create sustainable, economically viable, renewable energy alternatives.  We will have the time to create clean battery technology to make Wind and Solar power work.  We will have the time to look at the impact of bio-fuels. But most importantly we build an Energy Secure nation.


In this post we looked at the barriers to Energy Security, and how those barriers are/can be broken down.  In the next post we will bring it altogether in a plan for building an Energy Secure Nation.