Monday, September 10, 2012

Un Coventional Energy

Gratefully it appears that, based on their convention speeches at least, neither of the presidential candidates is going to diminish the relevance or importance of my new novel, THE LAST CANARY.

Indeed, a survey of the contrasting platforms presented by both parties over the past two weeks is greatly reassuring – especially if one’s strategy relies on the prolongation of the current stalemate on domestic energy development in order to sell books.

I have to confess, when I sat down to write THE LAST CANARY, my motives were fairly transparent. I was going to pen a topical story that played into the ferocious debate that the candidates for the presidency would, no doubt, be having about this critical policy issue in their pitch to win the highest office in the land.

As I went to press my biggest fear was that the candidates’ informed positions would render my thoughtful exploration of the implications of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the potential for energy self-sufficiency irrelevant -- their well-considered positions making further discussion unnecessary.

All I can think of now is, “What was I smokin’?”

Somewhere between Todd Akin's puzzling remarks thrusting abortion rights to center stage and the absurd distraction of Paul Ryan’s personal best marathon times, the matter of the country’s strategy for addressing our future energy requirements remains woefully under served.

I guess I can heave a huge (and very sarcastic) sigh of relief.  At least for the time being, the controversial thesis of my novel – that we need to articulate a coherent energy policy that includes the thoughtful use of unconventional oil and gas recovery techniques -- is still very much intact. Both sides, it would appear, are as dug in as ever.

I relaxed when I watched candidate Romney declare that we can be ‘energy independent’ by 2020 -- seven short years from now if he manages to fit it onto his crowded Day One agenda (immediately after repealing Obamacare and just ahead of solving the Iranian nuclear threat). But when he failed to meaningfully mention alternative fuels or conservation, I knew he wasn’t really serious about solving the problem.

The President? Five million green jobs promised last time around became 600,000 brown ones in the natural gas industry this time out. You’d expect that I would welcome this announcement, however it appears that expedience has trumped long-term thinking. You see fracking is not a destination unto itself. It is simply a bridge to the widely sustainable future he advocated previously.

I also can’t help but wonder how both candidates seemed to have missed the impact and importance of shale gas development in the critical swing state of Ohio. I would have thought it was worth a shout out, at least. But at least both parties seem to agree that Jerusalem is the ‘capital’ of Israel.

The sum of these developments? I’ve still got a lot of books to sell without the built-in ‘platform’ that most of us authors rely on to move product in the literary market place. Clearly, counting on our leaders to make energy policy a serious discussion point ahead of November was sheer folly on my part.

So much for any illusions of grandeur or the chance, on my part, to participate in the great debate that I imagined would be so central to this election cycle. Obviously, it was a mistake to bet on this, forgive the pun, fractious issue to earn writing fame and fortune.

Though THE LAST CANARY is only a novel, it attempts to explore many sides of the fracking debate while begging a single question – are we better off with or without the newly acquirable oil and natural gas that this important technological breakthrough makes possible?

What does my story conclude? Well, apparently that, too, depends on your political stripe (see party platforms above). If you lean right and listen carefully to Mitt’s energy policy you will find yourself straining to hear mention of anything but hydrocarbon-based solutions.

Similarly, if you support Mr. Obama, you will undoubtedly hear about the need for thoughtful progress and balancing our energy needs against their potential environmental impacts – with a broad wink towards those who would retard the development of new discoveries.

Guess what? Not surprisingly, the correct answer lies somewhere in the middle. But, of course, the middle is a very unpopular place to meet in this mean election season. So what if the way forward for our country lies in our ability to strike compromise and to accommodate multiple views of our  future.

Like so many things these days, the hard stuff can’t be discussed rationally – political badges apparently trumping commonsense. Potato, potato … tomato, tomato. I’m surprised we haven’t, in our collective populist wisdom, decided to call the whole thing off.

If you’re like me, you’re wearying of circling debates that take facts and science off the table.  It is a mug’s game is how a dear Irish friend would describe it. However, all I know is that C02 emissions have always caused and will continue create a host of undesirable environmental consequences.

Whether climate change is or isn’t one of them (really?), there is still absolutely no denying that ocean acidification is a direct and harmful bi-product of carbon fueled industrial activity that threatens the world’s most important food supply.  Go ahead. Look it up.

Similarly, the gases that are emitted from our factories and vehicles are causing unprecedented levels of damaging respiratory and other related ailments. For these reasons alone, it is time to honestly come to terms with the impact of hydrocarbons as our primary fuel source.

Oh, and there is also no such thing as clean coal. The fact that it has to be washed, scrubbed, precipitated, denoxified and gasified are pretty good clues about the perils implicit in its use. Promoting it only serves to prolong our reliance on a toxic resource.

Just as certainly, there is no wind or solar bound solution that will scale sufficiently to meet our present term energy requirements. It can’t be done. Anyone who claims otherwise is in strenuous denial of reality and the essential role that carbon based energy sources must play for the foreseeable future.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there are nearly a quarter billion cars and trucks in America alone. No alternative energy source is going to be available any time soon to replace the fuels that these vehicles require. Nor is there an economic case that would make conversion viable.

And I don’t even want to factor in the demand for hydrocarbons in industrial applications or our need for heating fuels (in those months when we are not being globally warmed) into this debate.

As a result, the sudden unanticipated availability of more abundant natural gas and oil, now accessible via the controversial recovery technique known as fracking is a game changer. Sensible, responsible extraction is key to a truly sustainable future in which economic and environmental necessities can co-exist.

And ‘no’ this message is not being brought to you by one of the many lobbying interests currently shaping the agenda in favor of development. It’s simply time for all parties (and Parties) to acknowledge this reality and begin to move towards the positive solution that this unanticipated windfall makes possible.

It is time to weigh the environmental impacts fairly. It is essential to evaluate the true consequences objectively. And it is critical to proceed with the developing the technological and infrastructural solutions that will make the exploitation of this resource not only safe, but also sustainable in every sense of the word.

In that spirit I would like to invite you to read THE LAST CANARY. Not because it offers some kind of healing epiphany, but because it tries to explain the issues that confront us in a way that makes them easier to appreciate – in human terms.

You may not like some of my portrayals or conclusions. You’ll probably despise my broad humor and my fairly harsh regard for many of the affected parties (in the pejorative sense of the word). It is meant as entertainment, after all.

But what I sincerely hope that you will not dispute is the importance of natural gas development to our country for the promise that it holds – whether it gets short shrift in this most political of seasons ... or not.