Is U.S. Energy Policy Progressing?

'Cheap Energy at Any Price'

"The United States has had the same 'energy policy' for 200 years — cheap energy at any price."

That is the assessment of Lee Gerhard, chairman of AAPG's Division of Public Affairs Governmental Affairs Committee.

With fossil fuels underpinning the world economy and many scientists saying the peak of global production is near — or even past — the need for a reasoned approach to national energy supply and demand is apparent and becoming more urgent, Gerhard said.

A forum scheduled during the AAPG annual meeting in Houston will give members an opportunity to learn more about current efforts to put a national energy policy in place and perhaps help shape the debate.

Gerhard and Robert T. Sellars Jr. will moderate the March 11 panel discussion, titled "U.S. Energy Policy: Progress or Political Stagnation?"

It is the second forum sponsored by DPA and the Environmental Geosciences and Energy Minerals divisions.

Gerhard said audience members will have a chance to comment and ask questions after forum speakers introduce four major areas of discussion:

  • Philip H. "Pete" Stark, IHS Energy Group, will present data on the current global energy situation.

    Through his position at IHS, Stark studies and documents global energy availability.

  • David Applegate, director of the American Geological Institute's Governmental Affairs Program, will present an up-to-date outline of efforts in Washington.Applegate assists AAPG with information flow with Congress through his position at AGI.

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"The United States has had the same 'energy policy' for 200 years — cheap energy at any price."

That is the assessment of Lee Gerhard, chairman of AAPG's Division of Public Affairs Governmental Affairs Committee.

With fossil fuels underpinning the world economy and many scientists saying the peak of global production is near — or even past — the need for a reasoned approach to national energy supply and demand is apparent and becoming more urgent, Gerhard said.

A forum scheduled during the AAPG annual meeting in Houston will give members an opportunity to learn more about current efforts to put a national energy policy in place and perhaps help shape the debate.

Gerhard and Robert T. Sellars Jr. will moderate the March 11 panel discussion, titled "U.S. Energy Policy: Progress or Political Stagnation?"

It is the second forum sponsored by DPA and the Environmental Geosciences and Energy Minerals divisions.

Gerhard said audience members will have a chance to comment and ask questions after forum speakers introduce four major areas of discussion:

  • Philip H. "Pete" Stark, IHS Energy Group, will present data on the current global energy situation.

    Through his position at IHS, Stark studies and documents global energy availability.

  • David Applegate, director of the American Geological Institute's Governmental Affairs Program, will present an up-to-date outline of efforts in Washington.Applegate assists AAPG with information flow with Congress through his position at AGI.

  • Scott White, University of Kansas Energy Research Center, will discuss the potential roles of various alternative and renewable energy sources.

    White is an energy economist who works in the area of alternative and renewable energy supplies and economics.

  • Charles J. Mankin, Oklahoma Geological Survey director and secretary of AAPG, will look at where the nation needs to go in terms of energy policy and how to get there.

    Mankin lectures widely on U.S. energy policies and is a leading advocate of science-based policy.


AAPG and DPA staged a successful Energy Summit in Washington, D.C., last April on the need for a national energy policy, attracting a crowd of various invited federal staffers and agency representatives. Another is planned in September, and useful data and ideas garnered from the March 11 program will be included, Gerhard said.

He said he hopes the September forum will be held in the Capitol.

Barring dramatic developments, Gerhard said he expects the status of efforts in Washington to be the same on March 11 as for much of the recent past:

"Partisan politics will have stymied efforts to develop an energy policy for the United States."

Competing for a Consensus

Many competing proposals have been advanced in Congress, but no consensus has developed regarding any of them, Gerhard said.

But the need for a forward-looking strategy is apparent, he added.

Many researchers say that in the next four decades, 40 percent of U.S. energy needs will have to come from yet-to-be-developed sources and technologies, Gerhard said.

While fossil sources will continue to fuel the world for the foreseeable future, some scientists say the peak of global production will occur within the next 25 years.

"Some say it occurred last year," Gerhard said.

In any case, the capital requirements of maintaining the current fuel mix "will be excessive," he said.

Recent industry mergers reflect that reality, as exploration and production moves to ever-more remote and expensive locations, he said.

Increased access to fossil sources is needed, including locations off the east and west coasts, the Gulf of Mexico and federal lands in the Rockies, he said.

The political debate risks favoring pet projects over substantial energy sources, he said.

Despite the usefulness of some alternatives, he said, they remain marginal, adding that after decades of research and billions of dollars spent, alternatives contribute only about 2 percent of the nation's energy.

"Wind can't replace coal," he commented.

If wind sources continued to grow at 20 percent per year, it would take another 45 years for wind to make a significant difference in the country's energy supplies, Gerhard said.

Other sources — nuclear, solar, hydrogen, helium 3, and others — range from being useable with current technology to "pretty far out there," he said.

Gerhard said nuclear sources appear to have the most potential. He said new technologies and inventions will be needed to capitalize on alternative sources, and more funding is needed to find more efficient ways of finding and extracting fossil fuels.

"In the immediate future, fossil fuels will continue to play a major role," he said.

"We'd better get our act together — you can't create supply from nothing. There are geologic controls that government regulations can't change."

Neither can we conserve our way out of our energy needs, he said.

Will It Play in Peoria?

Gerhard called President Bush's proposed energy policy a "good start," because that policy, as outlined, addresses accessing domestic sources, environmental concerns, conservation and development of new technology and sources.

Gerhard also said he personally agreed with Bush's recent move away from seeking more energy-efficient vehicles to adopting alternative power sources, such as fuel cells.

"An 80-miles-per-gallon vehicle basically means running on roller skates," he said. "That may make sense in the Beltway, but it doesn't make sense in Nevada."

In addition to access, the other main component on a sound policy is strategic planning, Gerhard said.

Developing plans and being ready for contingencies is always better than reacting to a crisis, he said.

"You've got to plan ahead. The problem is always going to get here before you expect it."

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