Readers of this publication are already well-aware that there is an ongoing, conscious war being waged in this country by certain vocal, impassioned and even violent segments of our society against the further exploration, development, production, transportation and use of “muscle fuels” (like coal, oil and natural gas) as energy and fuel sources. These groups have demonstrated their willingness to engage in property destruction and threats of personal injury to convey their message to “keep it in the ground.” The alleged reasons for their extreme behavior range from a fear of polluted groundwater to the perceived ramifications of climate change on a catastrophic level. Whether it is the protests against drilling in the Arctic Ocean or the series of skirmishes experienced during the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline or the recent protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline, it is clear that these opponents of muscle fuels are on a mission to disrupt and prevent efforts to find, develop and use these natural resources.
Fortunately, articulate and knowledgeable spokespeople have risen to the challenge and are responding to the concerns of these groups with a balanced analysis of the benefits and challenges presented by muscle fuels. You have likely heard about the impressive efforts of people like Mark Mathis and his documentary film spOILed and Alex Epstein and his book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
Well, add to that list Kathleen Hartnett White and the book she has written with Stephen Moore titled Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy. White is the Distinguished Senior Fellow-in-Residence and Director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin. In this position, she directs research and policy on topics like energy, climate change, water and endangered species. She has been involved with this topic for some time now, having also served as Chairman and Commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from 2001 to 2007.
In Fueling Freedom, White and Moore methodically lay out a brief history of what the world was like before muscle fuels, what the world has become because of muscle fuels and how the world can continue to improve through the use of muscle fuels. At the same time, the authors present a more balanced story about the false hope inherent in the over-reliance on renewable energy sources, like wind and solar.
White recently spoke at the Texas Tech University School of Law in the Energy Law Lecture Series. Her presentation focused on the themes of her book. An early slide in her presentation set the tone for the head-scratching positions that opponents of muscle fuels continue to take in this ongoing national debate. The slide showed a photograph of a helicopter spraying hot water on the blades of a wind turbine unable to function because it is covered in ice. The helicopter is burning aviation fuel, and the hot water is being heated by an oil burner. All of this activity is being made possible by oil, so that intermittent and unreliable wind power — which is indisputably less efficient and much less dense as an energy source — can be rendered functional. The irony is inescapable, but the absurdity in policy choice is dangerous in its potential to cripple our economy.
White reminds those, who apparently have conveniently decided to forget about or ignore the human condition before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, just how coal, oil, and natural gas spectacularly changed what it had been like to live in this world. The gross domestic product of industrialized countries blew through the roof; (since the Industrial Revolution) the average life expectancy has tripled to 79 years; average personal income skyrocketed and enabled an enduring middle class to emerge; and populations boomed, but these fuels and their derivative products have led to more food being grown per person, despite having billions more people in the world. As much as advocates of command-and-control centralized governments hate to admit it, it is undeniable that access to abundant, available and affordable energy (like coal, oil and natural gas) is a fundamental and essential component for modern economic growth in any country and the reality of economic and individual freedom for the citizens in that country.
In her presentation, White points out simple, easy-to-grasp and hard-to-refute realities in our modern, global economy that are only made possible through oil and natural gas. For example, in 2014, on any given day, there were over 102,000 commercial airplane flights — made possible only through the use of jet aviation fuel derived from crude oil. A satellite photograph taken at night over North and South Korea shows the stark difference (in lights powered by electricity fueled by coal, oil and natural gas) between a well-lit South Korea and a North Korea completely in the dark. She informs the uninformed that the mind-boggling increase in agricultural yield in the 20th century is the direct result of fertilizer enriched with products derived from natural gas. These products have actually expanded the areas of fertility across the world, where there had been only desert before.
Rather than “keeping it in the ground” out of fear of polluting the groundwater, opponents of muscle fuels should acknowledge the countless improvements in the quality and availability of potable water across the world because drilling rigs, pumps and filters fueled by oil and natural gas made it happen. Rather than shut down the global economy for fear of climate catastrophe (on which there certainly is no scientific consensus), opponents should acknowledge the famines and epidemics that have been minimized or averted altogether because of equipment and technology powered by, and made from products derived from, oil and natural gas.
Opponents of muscle fuels are notorious for having exaggerated and hyperbolic views on the challenges that accompany muscle fuels. Fueling Freedom should not only fill our information tank, it should also inspire us to take a stand for common sense.
About the author: Bill Keffer is a contributing columnist to SHALE Magazine. He teaches at the Texas Tech University School of Law and continues to consult. He served in the Texas Legislature from 2003 to 2007.