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The Real Energy Crisis

Gasoline prices are down in Virginia from above $4.00 to under $2.00. The energy crisis is over, right?


Wrong.


The real energy crisis is not how much gasoline costs at the pump; it is the danger that heavy reliance on foreign sources of energy poses to our national security.


The 1974 oil embargo should have awakened us to the perils of heavy reliance on foreign energy sources. It did not. We seemed only to conclude that we must protect Middle East oil fields. Rather than respond to the oil embargo with a long-term program to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we responded with the Carter Doctrine (expanded by President Reagan), which declared that any interference with U. S. interests in the Persian Gulf would be considered an attack on U.S. vital interests. As a result, we have paid a price of 34 years of continuous diplomatic involvement and almost 20 years of direct military involvement in the Middle East oil fields.


Fortunately, there is an answer to this crisis. We still have the ability to become far less dependent on foreign energy. We can produce most of our energy here, in the United States, if we focus now on a long-term, comprehensive energy program that includes both increasing domestic energy production and increasing energy efficiency.


Some believe that we can achieve this goal in a relatively short period of time, perhaps as short as 20 years. Others argue it will take longer. Regardless of whether we seek to achieve it in 20 or 40 years, our security interests dictate that we must begin now. We must dedicate ourselves to a balanced program of increased domestic energy production across the spectrum of energy supplies and a strong program of energy efficiency.


On the production side we must increase our investment in development of sustainable alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar, biofuel, fuel cell, geo-thermal and other cutting-edge energy sources. However, as important as alternative energy sources are to our future no credible source today argues that we can support our future domestic energy needs over the next 50 years solely through an increase in alternative energy sources. We must also increase production of traditional fuels, including nuclear, coal, oil, gas and hydroelectric power.


Of course, increasing production of traditional sources raises legitimate concerns about their consequences on our environment. Significant advances in environmental protection have been made over the last 30 years in the production of traditional fuels and with concerted efforts by both producers and government, even better safeguards can be developed over the next 30 years. Though this development will take time, we cannot wait to start leasing and exploration until all possible environmental safeguards for production are in place. If we are to wean ourselves from foreign energy in the foreseeable future, we must go forward on all fronts now. That is, simultaneously with a national effort to provide adequate environmental safeguards, the first steps towards production, including opening areas to exploration and lease planning, must go forward in the near future.


On the consumption side, we must increase our investment in development of energy efficient homes, offices, autos and all other means of work. Virginia has a big role to play in all of these efforts.


We are already a player in alternative energy and energy efficiencies. For over 20 years, Dominion’s Bath County Pumped Storage facility has significantly increased the efficient utilization of its nuclear generating facilities. Wind generation projects have been proposed both inland and offshore of Virginia and biofuel production is increasing. In Southwest Virginia coal gas collections systems have been deployed. Scores of research projects are ongoing at our major research universities, such as Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and others into alternative energy production and efficient use of energy.


Virginia will become a bigger player in production of traditional energy sources.


Our Commonwealth is already a leader in safe nuclear energy production. Dominion has operated two nuclear plants safely for over 30 years and Dominion wants to increase its nuclear production.


Southwest Virginia has been a major coal producer for a century and the region can continue to produce. We must help create additional coal production in this region. Anti-pollution devices on coal and oil burning power plants have made dramatic improvements in the past 30 years, but better devices are still needed, especially to reduce or eliminate CO2, SO2 and NOx emissions. Coal producers, utilities and the federal government must devote more money to this research and to other clean coal technologies.


The national debate on offshore drilling involves Virginia. Large areas of the Outer Continental Shelf off Virginia’s coast have recently been opened for exploration and production of oil and gas. In times past, offshore drilling raised serious environmental questions and Governor Kaine has recently taken important steps to insure the federal government takes our state’s interests into account as it moves forward on offshore leasing.


Offshore oil and gas production technologies have also improved in the past 30 years and diminished the chances of environmental crisis from offshore rigs and water transport of gas and oil. More work must be done to further reduce these risks; however, there is time to do this. Even if Virginia offshore leases were signed in 2009, production would be nearly a decade away. This gives both the federal government and private industry the time necessary to develop additional technologies that will virtually eliminate the chance of environmental crisis from offshore drilling.


In addition to developing environmental technologies, it is vital that both the state and federal governments move quickly towards agreements on needed environmental standards and then take steps necessary to insure that the standards are consistently applied and consistently enforced over the life of the exploration and production process. Erratic development and enforcement of regulations is an avoidable barrier to prompt and safe development of energy resources. As Governor Kaine has emphasized, the states must participate in the regulatory process.


Major reduction in our reliance on foreign energy should be a key national security goal of our nation for the foreseeable future. Virginia stands to be a significant player in the development and implementation of a responsible and balanced energy generation policy. One particularly valuable role Virginia can play is to work to help insure that our country moves towards this goal promptly and responsibly.

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