Polar Express to a Bright Energy Future
As the over-heated talk against fossil-fuel use at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar ended last week, I was reminded of my early professional days in the frozen frontier of spectacular natural beauty and copious energy reserves.
Standing on the shores of the icy Chukchi Sea, the sky is lower, the air colder and crisper, than almost anywhere else on earth. There in Cape Lisburne, Alaska, one hundred and sixty miles above the Arctic Circle, is where I began my atmospheric-science career a few decades ago.
Unfortunately, I didn't stay long. After a short stint as a weather observer, recording snowfall in July and awesome displays of the aurora borealis, I returned to the Midwest and western Pennsylvania to pursue a career as an air-pollution meteorologist.
Although not as grand as observing weather from the top of the world, the air-quality profession is certainly an exciting, important field, especially today, with the anxious balance between energy needs and a clean environment. And, regardless of the storylines ballyhooed at the U.N. climate-change conference, the balance is possible, of course, thanks to phenomenal advances in natural-resource extraction and contaminant-control technologies.
Alas, though, too much international fretting is abridging our connection to a secure energy future -- a future with exceptional promise.
Natural resource exploration and development are key to independence. But it's more than merely energy-independence. The U.S. could become a major supplier of fuel to the rest of the world. Last month, the International Energy Agency predicted that in five years, the U.S. will be the world's top oil producer, becoming a net oil-exporter by 2030.
Furthermore, the U.S. is estimated to possess nearly 80 percent of the world's shale-based energy reserves. By adding such a huge amount of fuel to an already plentiful supply of oil and our leadership in coal and advancements in nuclear power and solar and wind energy...well, the future certainly looks bright.
The future will be brighter still with robust arctic oil and gas programs. Over the past two months, drilling of exploratory wells was initiated in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, a hopeful sign that the anemic U.S. energy plan is getting some much-needed iron. After all, these offshore resources may be almost 25 percent of our known, recoverable Outer Continental Shelf reserves. And to leave our own resources untapped while other nations reap enormous benefits in the same waters is, at a minimum, unreasonable.
So, the "land of the midnight sun" is home to natural phenomena not even possible anywhere in the lower forty-eight, and certainly not in Qatar. Yet it offers safe, abundant, reliable energy opportunities that are quite possible because of modern, advanced technologies. Let's engage the challenge by being both ecologically responsible and smart about meeting the power requirements of a nation that is the global leader in prudence, innovation, and concern for the environment.
Veteran meteorologist Anthony J. Sadar is author of In Global Warming We Trust: A Heretic's Guide to Climate Science (Telescope Books, 2012).