How to Save Energy in America

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Extracted from That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs by Martin Sieff.  

Our use of oil is wasteful and stupid. Republicans are in deep denial about this but Democrats are pathetically ignorant about what to do about it as well.

Understand this: There is no alternative to using oil to power aircraft. There just isn’t. No alternative technology to fly airliners and cargo aircraft exists.

But there are alternatives to greatly reducing oil use in cars in urban areas, which is where most Americans live anyway.

That alternative is the gasoline-electric hybrid engine. The Chevy Volt is not quite to the early 21st century what the Ford Model T was to the 20th century 100 years ago. But it shows us the way.

There are alternatives to flying huge numbers of people and millions of tons of cargo around the country by air. And there are alternatives to trucking them around the country on eight-lane highways.

The best and most practical alternative is simply a quick, vast, low-tech expansion of CSX, the national cargo rail network.

When the Democrats ran both houses of Congress as well as the White House, they couldn’t even get that right. They poured multiple billions of dollars into superfast bullet train technology, studies and projects. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, when he was Senate Majority Leader, even insisted on funding such a route from his home state Nevada to the Los Angeles.

Now first class high speed trains (HST) systems already exist all across Europe and are already being developed in China. But they aren’t essential. They aren’t what the United States desperately needs. And we frankly lack the technology to build them quickly and cheaply anyway. Anyone who has ever felt like throwing up on Amtrak’s pathetic Acela tilt trains going up and down the East Coast will know what I mean.

The federal and state governments also need to invest much more big and boldly than they have in electric or hybrid-powered bus services in major cities and, eventually, when we can afford it again, in more and bigger mass transit rail systems.

We don’t need to rely on oil to generate electrical energy either. In the United States, we don’t even need to rely on nuclear power to do that. The United States still sits on some of the biggest and most easily accessible reservoirs of coal and natural gas on the planet. As recently as a decade ago, we didn’t dream how much natural gas we were sitting on, and or how cost effectively we would be able to access it.

But America’s oil, coal mining and general energy extraction industry is still by far the best in the world, Thank God. If you want energy extraction expertise, you go to Houston. No one in green Massachusetts, Oregon, Hollywood or Manhattan seems to know this. But every energy industry executive in Moscow and Riyadh knows it by heart .

You would never know it from Thomas Friedman’s latest book, but America’s energy renaissance has already become. It is already far advanced. But Friedman, and President Barack Obama, who worshipfully follows his every recommendation, both want to bury it.

In the past decade, America’s energy extraction engineers have developed an entirely new industry – horizontal underground mining using liquid hydraulic chemical “cocktails” to cost-effectively access methane gas in clay shale formations. The technology is called “Fracking.” (Not to be confused with words we do not use in serious books for a family audience.)

The gas that fracking produces is not only abundant, natural gas burns cleaner than coal and oil[] .  It is remarkably cheap. Global gas prices in recent years have stayed stable and even declined when oil prices soared.

Fracking has transformed the prospects for America’s self-reliance on energy, certainly for many decades, even generations to come. And this miracle is taking place in the conservative-leaning, so-called red states. Cheap energy for all Americans will not take away our need to use energy far more sensibly. But it is already pulling the rug out from our reliance on Saudi Arabia and the Middle East that Thomas Friedman weeps over with crocodile tears.

The discovery of new abundant sources of energy within the United States already has resulted in great flows of investment and even population flowing into the areas where the oil and gas is found. You won’t find a single acknowledge of this in Friedman’s new book, or any of his old ones. It upsets his fantasy of a world powered only by his Sacred Greens. But it is real. It is already happening.