By Raymond Plank
Founder and retired chairman of Apache Corp.
For the first time in my life and oil and gas career, I believe that the United States has the capability to accomplish three major energy-related objectives. The first is North American energy independence.
Technological advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have expanded America’s petroleum resource base to the point where we now can meet our needs for at least a century. Add in Canada, Mexico and coal and our energy resource base becomes perhaps four times larger than that of the entire Middle East.
All we have to do is use it. We have the ability, the technology and the commitment to do so while still protecting the environment.
North America’s rich energy resource base provides time for us to achieve the second major objective: transitioning to sustainable fuels. This transition cannot be hastened by lavishing billions of federal stimulus dollars on technologies that are not yet ready for prime time. We’ve seen the results of that approach as just about every federally subsidized solar energy firm has gone the way of Solyndra—bankrupt.
More research is needed, and research takes time. Distorting the marketplace with federal subsidies for electric cars that catch fire or don’t run does not inspire confidence in that technology. But develop an electric car that is affordable and meets public needs and the buyers will come. Likewise, distorting free markets by artificially raising the cost of fossil fuels to make higher-priced alternative technologies more competitive only creates inflation, impedes job growth and harms our economy.
The third achievable objective is the development and utilization of North America’s resource base cognizant of and committed to environmental standards. But those standards need to be real. They must be grounded in science rather than political calculation and hyperbole. Here again, the debate over fracking—a technology that has made North American energy independence possible—is illustrative.
Fracking involves pumping fluid containing sand or other granular material underground at high pressure to form cracks (fractures) in a gas- or oil-bearing formation. The fluid is then extracted, leaving the sand behind to prop open cracks so that the oil or gas may flow more freely. The technique was first employed in 1947, but modern fracking in conjunction with lateral drilling dates to the 1990s in the Barnett Shale of North Texas.
In all that time—65 years—there has never been a significant environmental incident attributable to fracking. Yet activists continue to scare the public with unfounded claims of aquifer contamination.
What is really needed is a national consensus for achieving energy independence within a decade.
To get there, the American people must understand the benefits such a collaboration would bring:
• Massive job growth (witness the Bakken oil shale play in North Dakota);
• Lower energy prices (which also would reduce the cost of food, gasoline and consumer goods);
• A stronger economy and the wherewithal to promote a cleaner environment;
• Improved national security; and
• Time to develop low-cost sustainable energy solutions.
The important thing now—what’s changed from the past—is that energy independence is well within our grasp. It should be our number one goal as a nation.
Plank recently published his memoirs, “A Small Difference,” available on Amazon.com, ucrossfoundation.org/about-us/general-store, and fundforteachers.org/unicx.cfm. The book describes how Plank built Apache from a small accounting practice into the energy giant it is today. Two themes running through the book are the infinite capacity of the individual and the importance of lifetime learning.