A Crude Awakening

 | Jan 08, 2013 | 3:45 PM EST
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Funny to listen to chatter about all the energy that's been discovered in this country and know we have no policy whatsoever to deal with it.

I saw staggering figures out of North Dakota yesterday about huge oil production increases there, 52% growth year over year, and in Texas, with a 31% year-over-year increase. These are amazing numbers.

You would think this would mean something to the American consumer but, in reality, it means little because the crude either can't easily get to the markets it needs to get to or it has to be exported because it is of such high quality that our refineries can't handle it.

The notion that crude has to be exported and that natural gas will be hard to export are issues the private sector cannot handle. Only the government, through an informed energy policy, can deal with these mismatches. Think about it: By insisting that everything be done totally in the private sector, we will be importing oil from Venezuela, a sworn enemy, and exporting it to who knows where because we don't have refining capacity.

Of course, building new refineries is nearly impossible in this country because the environmentalists are so powerful and pipeline construction is subject to a level of scrutiny that renders it uneconomic in many areas. For example, if you think there's a ton of oil to be had in North Dakota and Texas, you have no idea how much might be in Kern County, Calif. But you can't drill, can't get pipe permits and can't get permission to refine, so it doesn't matter.

This would not be such a shame if we didn't have so many energy "policies" in this country that are aided by the government but have not been economic -- solar and ethanol are the best examples of this. Of course, President Obama and his administration always say they are about encouraging anything that makes us energy self-sufficient, but the dirty little secret is this means anything but fossil fuels.

Look, the market will ultimately take care of itself. But if we really believe in the concept of national security, and we truly want to help the consumer, if we really want the skies to be cleaner -- not cleanest, but cleaner -- and we really want to change the balance of payments, cut the military budget and reduce asthma in inner cities and put a lot of people to work in high-priced jobs, then the president and Congress must recognize the need for a commission to harness the technology and the oil to ensure that they are used wisely.

Nah, that's not in the handbook.

I am a member of the Sierra Club. I have been a huge giver of land to trusts. I have backed Greenpeace, for heaven's sake.

But I know nothing's perfect. We are always going to have to deal with coal, which directly and indirectly causes 20,000 deaths a year. Ethanol will use a gigantic amount of water and drive up corn prices, the staple of our diet. Nuclear? Fukushima.

Natural gas? Oil? Plenty of things are wrong. But both, especially the former, can be used wisely to benefit our country. But you need people in Washington to think about it.

Somehow, that's just an impossibility.

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