The world’s insatiable appetite for energy puts much at risk.
Three of the world’s top large-scale energy production systems – oil, coal, and nuclear power – recently experienced major catastrophes: the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, and the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion in West Virginia. The fourth top system, natural gas, has problems. Growing evidence shows that hydraulic fracturing drilling to tap unconventional shale reservoirs of natural gas – like the Barnett in Texas and Haynesville in Louisiana – can contaminate precious water supplies.
No doubt this cluster of calamities will fuel environmentalists’ efforts to stymie energy production. However, any significant success on their part would generate a new set of significant risks. The world’s economic and social systems depend upon a ready supply of energy. And, the world demand is growing rapidly. Energy consumption in China, India, and emerging countries is growing five times faster than in the U.S. and Europe.
More and more demand as easy-to-access sources dwindle drives production toward harder-to-extract and higher-risk sources such as deep-water wells, oil and gas-bearing shale, LNG imports, mountaintops of coal, and multi-reactor nuclear plants with on-site spent fuel storage. Cap all this off with the Kyoto Protocol to reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions and the whole energy thing becomes perplexing.
That makes it ripe for political posturing, but prickly for real solutions. Thus, both President Barrack Obama and Governor Haley Barbour can favor a similar sounding, broad-based national energy policy but fight over focus and implementation.
Regulation is a major sticking point, the manner and detail required to assure proper risk management and safety. Both the Deepwater Horizon and Upper Big Branch catastrophes showed company disregard for safety regulations. Mountaintop mining and shale fracturing challenge clean water regulations. The Japanese nuclear disaster spotlights reactor design and back-up system regulatory issues.
With our politicians unable – or unwilling – to agree on common-sense regulation, we delay crucial decisions and vacillate between too much and too little regulation.
Former TVA director Glenn McCullough of Tupelo argues strongly – and hopefully – that our political leaders will come together behind a rational energy program. He rejects “punitive regulation” and calls for a plan embracing energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy, clean coal technologies, and carbon sequestration.
Just approved Senate Bill 2723 adds authority to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board to oversee carbon sequestration. This, plus our new lignite coal, biomass and solar energy plants, our Grand Gulf single-reactor expansion, and our untapped offshore fields, give Mississippi the chance to show the world how to produce…and regulate…safe, clean energy.
Big job, but why not us?