America, the Global Powerhouse

December 30, 2010

Everyone knows that the nation’s fossil-fuel outlook is bleak. It’s time to face the grim reality that we’ve nearly exhausted our energy supplies.

So why is the United States exporting coal and natural gas?

It’s doing so because everyone is wrong. America’s fossil-fuel base is vast, and energy professionals -- unlike lazy reporters, oblivious talking heads, Hollywood simpletons, and “sustainability” scolds -- know it.

In recent months multi-billion-dollar enterprises have been launched to tap domestic energy abundance and ship it abroad.

“Millennium Bulk Logistics,” The (Portland) Oregonian reported in November, “a subsidiary of Australia’s Ambre Energy, plans to build the first major U.S. [coal-exporting] terminal on the West Coast along the banks of the Columbia River.” Over 2,000 miles to the southeast, Walter Energy, “a leading U.S. producer and exporter of premium hard coking coal for the global steel industry,” purchased Alabama’s Mobile River Terminal. The company has “significant plans for expansion” and needs additional shipping infrastructure.

We send coal to many countries -- Canada, Brazil, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. China and India, ravenous for the stuff that feeds power plants and steel mills, offer potential markets that dwarf current foreign customers’ demand.

How are coal exports possible? Energy alarmists don’t want you to know it, but the United States is quite properly called the “Saudi Arabia of Coal.” At current consumption rates, our supply would last for centuries. Much more will become available. Penn State’s Frank Clemente observes, “Many of the coal seams producing today were viewed as uneconomic 30 years ago. Technology is constantly improving, and even modest price increases open up vast expanses … all over the nation -- especially in [Wyoming’s] Powder River Basin. America has 28 percent of the world’s coal reserves, more … than any other nation, and coal is in the ground in over half the states.”

Natural gas is pervasive, too. As Robert Bryce noted in his book Power Hungry, in 2009 the Potential Gas Committee “estimated U.S. gas resources at 2,074 trillion cubic feet -- the highest resource evaluation in the committee’s forty-four-year history. That quality of gas is the energy equivalent of more than 350 billion barrels of crude oil, or about three times as much as the proved oil reserves of Iraq.”

Last month, an Australian bank announced an “agreement to jointly develop and market [natural-gas] liquefaction capacity at Freeport LNG’s existing LNG import terminal near Freeport, Texas.” Growing supply has produced “low natural gas prices … relative to global LNG markets,” and “the price differential has opened up an opportunity to make the U.S. a leading exporter of natural gas.”

And while it would surely shock most Americans, there’s no reason why the Land of the Free can’t eventually return to its lapsed role as a oil exporter. A 2007 report by the National Petroleum Council noted that we remain a black-gold behemoth: “The United States is the third-largest oil producing country in the world, after Saudi Arabia and Russia.”

Number three globally, despite the mind-blowing fact that domestic production fell a staggering 44 percent in the last four decades. But “peak oil” malarkey had nothing to do with the decline. As the Institute for Energy Research’s Thomas J. Pyle put it, “Canada drills for oil in the North Atlantic. Cuba, Brazil, and Venezuela produce energy in the water to our South. The Russians do the same to our West. Yet, America, the most technologically advanced nation in the world, with the most stringent environmental policies on the books, remains the only nation that imposes burdensome regulations and endless streams of red tape on … production.”

If the eco-left can be bested, petroleum production will skyrocket. And demand’s not rising the way it used to. Cultural and economic factors -- an aging population, the rising popularity of gas-electric hybrids, the growth of telecommuting, natural gas replacing heating oil -- hamper consumption. Rising supply? Stagnant, or dropping, demand? Sounds like an export opportunity.

Just about everything that’s said and written about fossil fuels in the dominant media is hogwash. Indeed, the phrase itself is possibly inaccurate. There’s reason to believe that the planet’s carbon and hydrocarbon deposits weren’t produced by decaying organisms, and are thus ridiculously plentiful at greater depths than present technology can reach.

In centuries to come, the world will transition to energy sources and technologies that scientists and engineers probably can’t envision today. Until then, there’s more than enough coal, natural gas, and oil to meet America’s -- and the world’s -- needs. Let’s go get it.

D. Dowd Muska ( writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska. He lives in Broad Brook, Connecticut.

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