I’m a scientist, I am a thinker, and a lover of art and nature. I have worked in the energy biz for thirty-five years, seeing the peaks and valleys of the volatile petroleum industry, as I mapped the peaks and valleys beneath the surface. I tell people that what I do are jigsaw puzzles with no picture on the front.
Petroleum is a natural deposit of stored potential energy from carbon based plants which nature has already cooked and stored for us. An odd fact is, because petroleum became available to burn lamps, whaling stopped and so ironically, the oil industry saved the whales. Petroleum energy has carried us from horse and buggy into the industrial and computer ages, but the caveat to it is the pollution it causes, which must be controlled. And though using corn or other carbon based crops, augments our supply of gasoline, it is far from being a “green” energy source, since it must be planted and cultivated with heavy diesel equipment, then energy used to process it to turn into fuel. In addition, it takes land away from crops and sucks corn, a major feed crop, into the volatile price gyrations of the oil market. Not a smart idea, in my opinion, to add instability into our food sources.
Specifically, I work in the natural gas industry, but being an objective scientist, I believe that of the petroleum energy choices we have for electric power generation: coal, oil, and natural gas, that natural gas is the least polluting of these energy sources. It simply has fewer molecules to break off during the burning process than heavier oil and coal. And until we find that energy source to take the place of the magnitude of power that Mother Nature gave us, I feel that natural gas is the best choice of the petroleum products for electric power production, at this time. Intelligent regulation of fracking and water use could serve to mitigate problems in the process of natural gas extraction. And understand there is no energy source that is without issues and risks - we must act like adults and not shut out one source, to then cause another, more polluting source, to be used. In the power plant game, it’s primarily a choice of fracking or would you prefer to have acid rain and coal ash pollution?
If the United States wants to be a world power, with strong manufacturing and enough energy to fuel our economy, alternative energy, as yet, cannot fill the need of our country. However, the magnitude of power produced from solar and wind would be a perfect match to augment smaller power needs such as homes, small businesses, and vehicles. So instead of having huge fields of solar panels and vast areas of wind turbines, which have unintended environmental issues, why not push the intelligent use of solar capturing roofs and windows and wind turbines designed into the buildings themselves?
So this brings me to the future of energy for this country. We desperately need an energy source that does not pollute, nor produce long term nuclear waste, and yet has enough power to fuel the world, without the need of costly and deadly wars. The energy source I refer to is the ultimate solar power: nuclear fusion. It is the opposite of nuclear fission, our current system of nuclear power--it is the fusing of two hydrogen atoms into a helium atom, with the release of a gorgeous amount of energy. There is no dangerous nuclear waste, taking thousands of years to decay and which, by the way, is currently piling up at nuclear fission plants around the country. The exciting part is that there is a world consortium www.iter.org and other groups, which are working towards developing a working nuclear fusion reactor in Europe. The hope is, that within fifty years, power from nuclear fusion may become a reality. We need to support this work with our voices and votes, and focus politicians and industry to strive towards this goal of energy independence.
In addition, I believe we must plan ahead and build better energy grids, figure out whether electric or hydrogen fuel vehicles make the most sense (or both), in other words, let’s be thinking ahead and dream of a world without smog, with clean water, and no more global wars over petroleum energy.