I stayed up past my normal bedtime to watch the President and his one Establishment challenger engage in a carefully staged and poorly moderated “debate” last night. The supposed topic was domestic policy. One of the largest components of our domestic economy is the energy industry and one of the most significant contributors to our future prosperity is a strong energy supply system.
Intricately tied to energy production is a discussion about the environment, air pollution, and global climate change. Nuclear fission energy is the ONLY source of energy that is reliable, emission free and has the demonstrated capacity for massive growth. The United States invented many of the dominant technologies in the field and it remains the world’s leading producer of electricity from uranium fission.
However, during the segment of the debate when the two invited candidates talked about energy, neither one saw fit to mention the other “N” word that has once again become a “third rail” for Establishment politicians.
During my morning walk, I listened to an excellent segment on Democracy Now that helped explain how the Commission on Presidential Debates captured the task of staging presidential debates from the League of Women Voters. I thought it would be worth sharing that episode with you.
You might also be interested in visiting Democracy Now to watch their initial effort to expand the debate by including two of the “third party” candidates who are running this year. Unfortunately, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate was invited but did not attend. I hope that Democracy Now and other organizations make use of the technology available today to break the Democrat/Republican two party monopoly of presidential debates to open up the conversation to people who recognize that the Establishment parties and the advertiser supported media are too beholden to people who love the status quo because they own the process.
When it comes to discussions about energy, the last thing that the establishment energy providers want is to have someone stand up and look Americans in the eye to tell them that we have a proven, clean, safe alternative with the ability to increase supply enough to drive prices back down to levels not seen since the mid 1990s. All of that highly touted increase in petroleum production is not coming from dramatically new technologies; it is coming because the world price of oil is finally high enough to all existing technologies to be used profitably. None of North Dakota’s vaunted shale oil would be accessible if they world market price dropped to $25-50 per barrel.
The historically unprecedented gap between the cost of a BTU from oil and the cost of a BTU from natural gas that currently exists in the United States and Canada (but not in the rest of the world) is only possible because the very same companies that are making massive profits in selling oil at the current inflated prices are also extracting natural gas from the very same wells. The oil and natural gas liquids are the money makers, the gas is an inevitable byproduct that might otherwise be flared off. In that situation, the seller can charge almost anything.
Of course, the sellers would prefer selling at higher prices, which is why they are working overtime to capture as many new markets as possible. That includes markets that are currently served by nuclear power plants; recent history has shown that even minor events can be turned into lengthy shutdowns with the application of just a little political pressure. Long shutdowns at plants like North Anna, San Onofre, Ft. Calhoun, and Crystal River have all resulted in substantial increases in natural gas consumption. I believe that the focused pressure on Indian Point, Vermont Yankee, and Pilgrim is at least partially supported by people who are interested in increasing the consumption of gas in power production to soak up some of the “surplus” production and keep prices as high as possible.
However, what would happen if the oil drilling suddenly became unprofitable? Building nuclear power plants, even under the best of conditions, takes four to six years. If you include the preparation time, make it closer to 10-15 years.
If gas marketers are successful, yet production starts to fall, how high will prices have to go to restore balance by destroying some of the new demand? How long will those high prices last? These are questions that real debates should address. The public power experts in the United States, the people who are charged with supplying reliable power for the most affordable prices possible, are worried.
Any candidate who is honestly concerned about making life better for the middle class should take notice of what leaders of the American Public Power Association are saying about risks of rising natural gas prices. Perhaps one or more of the alternative candidates for president can inject these important and time topics into the discussion.