When it comes to energy, policy must reflect reality

One of the best lines to come from the many presentations at the latest Energy Forum & Expo at Grand Junction encapsulated in a single sentence what it’s going to take to keep pace with increasing global energy demand: We really do need everything, everywhere all the time.

But even as all-of-the-above approach involving such renewable energy sources as wind and solar power proceeds, it was also clear from the presentations at the forum that fossil fuels will continue to play an important role. And the notion renewables will somehow soon supplant fossil fuels — at least on a global scale — is misplaced. Consequently, energy policy should reflect that fact and encourage, not hinder, coal, oil and natural gas production.

Robert Bryce, a journalist, author and public speaker who delivered the keynote presentation at the forum, best explained the situation in terms of the physics involved in energy production. Such energy sources as wind and solar power simply require too much space to keep pace with an increasingly power-hungry world, let alone replace fossil fuels. In another succinct exclamation, Bryce stated simply. “You can’t get there from here.”

That leaves such comparably dense sources of energy as coal, oil and natural gas the real fuels of the future. Ultimately, Bryce believes nuclear power, the most dense energy source of all, will be needed on a much larger scale.

Frank Clemente, professor emeritus of social sciences and energy policy at the Pennsylvania State University, made the case at the forum for coal.

As an abundant, comparably affordable and versatile fuel, coal will continue to play a leading role in meeting growing energy demand if not in the United States, then elsewhere in the world, Clemente said.

In the U.S. and Canada, technological advancements in producing oil and natural gas have positioned North America to achieve energy independence within perhaps a dozen years, said John Felmy, chief economist or the American Petroleum Institute.

And while research and development proceeds, there’s still the promise of a vast, largely untapped resource in oil shale, particularly in Western Colorado. Just ask Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the Colorado School of Mines.

So how should energy policy reflect what the speakers at the forum suggested is the reality of the situation? Access and regulations for starters.

As Boak pointed out, the proposed preferred alternative under a second environmental assessment would reduce the amount of federal lands available for potential leasing and development of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming from 2.4 million acres to 462,000 acres. In Western Colorado, home of the best of the best oil shale deposits in the world, the change would reduce access by 90 percent.

At the same time, possible federal regulations could be piled on top of state regulations for hydraulic fracturing, the technique that’s resulted in large part in what’s been called nothing short of a revolution in oil and natural gas production in the U.S.

When it comes to energy, policy should reflect reality: fossil fuels remain the most important components in an all-of-the above approach to meeting demand.