Recently I received the following email: "Please explain how energy from mountain top removal, fracking, and tar sands makes America great."
Greg's email to me used terms that lead to three different energy sources: coal, natural gas, and oil — and each have been big contributors to America's progress and prosperity. Each has made the personal lives of Americans more pleasant and less painful. Together these energy sources have made America energy secure.
The email used the term "mountain top removal," which is a method by which coal can be mined. It is safer than underground mining because it virtually removes the risk of mine accidents. Greg likely selected the term "mountain top removal" because it sounds harsh. In fact, in the mountainous regions of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, this surface mining process allows for hospitals, housing developments, schools, and shopping centers to be built—which bring more economic development and jobs. The area is filled with hills and valleys — but no place to create a community.
I've toured regions where "mountain top removal" is being done and stood on top of the massive coal seam. The mountains contain a thick layer of coal that goes all the way through it. To access it, the dirt, the mountaintop, is carved away and the coal is then removed.
In the past, when the coal had been extracted, a private landowner could ask the mining company to level out the land—making it economically productive. However, today's regulations take away that property owner's rights and require that the mountain be rebuilt and put back to its original condition.
The coal provides, and has provided, America with low-cost, base-load electricity — which has given us a competitive advantage in the global marketplace and unmatched personal progress. And, therefore, energy from mountain top removal makes America Great.
Fracking—short for hydraulic fracturing — combined with the amazing technology of horizontal drilling — has brought America into a new era of energy abundance. In an article titled "The Shale Gas Paradigm," Jim Clarkson, an electrical generation expert, states: "Gas using industries are expanding while we enjoy a distinct advantage over the rest of the world." He explains: "Shale gas lay worthless beneath the earth's surface for the whole of man's previous existence until human intelligence made it valuable" — and that was done with fracking.
Clarkson points out: "There were no federal programs with subsidies, tax breaks, and mandated markets to favor the shale industry. ... The new shale order of things is a triumph of free enterprise over government planning. The shale revolution shows that the good old American know-how and individual initiative that made this country great have survived the burden of big government and can still create economic miracles." Clarkson closes with: "Some observers are already calling this the century of natural gas. This could also be the century of prosperity, free markets, and optimism as America regains its energy mojo."
Unlike the pariah Greg presumes fracking to be, it is responsible for the shale gas phenomenon.
Last, Greg asked about tar sands and how they make America great. Tar sands allow America to get oil from our friendly Canadian neighbor and reduce our need to import OPEC's oil. We then refine that oil into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel that fuels our transportation fleet—something that wind and solar power cannot do.
I have been to the tar sands of Canada and what they are doing there is, like fracking and horizontal drilling, a technological miracle.
If you have ever walked on a California beach and stepped on a tar ball (created when the oil seeps out of the ground and is washed ashore mixed with sand), you have a clue what the tar sands are like. The naturally occurring tar sands are a layer in the earth (much like coal). This layer has raw crude oil mixed with the dirt/sands. I recall driving to the tar sands from the town where we stayed. As the elevation increased, I noticed that trees reached a certain height and then died. It was explained that as soon as the roots hit the bitumen (or tar) it kills the tree.
At the extraction site, the tar sands are bulldozed and dumped into giant trucks (much like surface coal mining). The tar and sand mixture is processed to separate the oil and the sand. (Think of taking that tar ball from the beach and boiling it. The oil melts and floats while the sand drops to the bottom.) The oil is now available for use and the clean sand is put back into the earth — only now the trees can actually grow. The reclaimed land is teeming with wildlife that lives in the healthy forest the extraction process provides. As a result, when the Keystone pipeline is approved, America would be far less dependent on people who aim to do us harm and OPEC couldn't cause an instant recession as it did in 1973.
And that, Greg, is how tar sands can make America greater.
Yes, mountain top removal — or coal; fracking — or natural gas; and tar sands — or oil, make America great.
Some people want to interfere with, restrict, and hamper North America's energy abundance — which will take away America's ability to provide cheap and reliable power to her citizens and take away the ability to grow the economy and create wealth. Why would anyone want to do that?