The Associated Press reported last week that we are faced with a glut of natural gas in the United States at the moment, the result of increased production generated by fracking, along with decreased demand at the end of a winter of record warm temperatures. Natural gas prices are at a 10-year low. This should be good for consumers, right? Not quite. As a result of the price collapse, the profit-driven oil and gas industry is cutting back on production at existing wells, slowing down the pace of new exploration, and diverting some of its natural gas drilling efforts toward higher priced oil. Wait a minute. What about all that public relations talk regarding “energy independence” and allowing Americans to free themselves from expensive foreign energy? The answer is that the oil and gas industry’s only interest is in making money, and they can only make money when fuel prices remain painfully high in the world markets. The oil and gas industry has no interest in bringing down consumer prices. Are they to be confused with patriots of some sort?
Ignoring the very significant and real costs of drilling in sensitive environmental areas, industry lobbyists and the “Drill, Baby, Drill” politicians with hands in their pockets continue to insist that we must open the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, along with offshore sites that are important to both our fisheries and tourism, to new drilling. If they have their way, the maximum exploitation of these public resources will still have a negligible effect upon the energy costs for American consumers. Profitability is contingent upon high prices, and as long as profit-driven producers have control of the faucet, world markets and speculators will insure that prices are maintained at the highest tolerable levels.
What if we reduce demand? Fuel efficiency is a myth. As long as we maintain our dependence upon fossil fuel, there is no way that gradually implemented fuel conservation measures can have a long-term impact upon prices in a world market, when demand is skyrocketing elsewhere. If an American driver trades in a motor vehicle getting 20 miles per gallon when fuel costs are $3.00 per gallon for a new vehicle getting 30 miles per gallon when fuel costs rise to $4.50 per gallon, that driver is still paying 15¢ per mile and is literally spinning his wheels. Other than the dubious impact upon the overall economy from the production and sale of new vehicles, that driver is in no better position to put food on his table or to pay down the principal on his mortgage. We are being played like fish at the end of the line.
The only way out of this situation is a rapid migration from internal combustion engines and fossil fuels to renewable energy, a process that would also provide the stimulus that our national economy so desperately needs. We cannot obtain energy independence by sipping instead of gulping, while maintaining a position as pawns in the status quo. A revolutionary change is needed in order to break free. Sometimes revolution can be a very good thing.