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In case anyone missed it, let me repeat something that is of a magnitude of 10 on the scale of news-quakes for Joe Public USA: America’s combined energy resources are, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CSR), the largest on earth. They eclipse Saudi Arabia (3rd), China (4th) and Canada (6th) combined – and that’s without including America’s shale oil deposits and, in the future, the potentially astronomic impact of methane hydrates.

The energy facts in the CRS report should be making front page news all over America. Mostly it isn’t. Given the devastating news from Japan and New Zealand, it may be right to postpone dancing in the streets. But something else is going on. Even though they are going to dominate global energy supply for decades to come the insidious war on vital fossil fuels continues apace.

U.S. Has Earth’s Largest Energy Resources

Thus it perhaps falls to a friend of the US (i.e. me) to state that if the White House is in any way serious about impacting the economic Black Hole that is the burgeoning national debt, reinvigorating business big-time, creating real jobs and restoring ebbing national wealth, the best shot by a distance if you’re American … well, you’re standing on it, or rather above it.

While love, spiritually speaking and in fiction, may make the world go around, it is energy – and mostly hydrocarbon energy – that actually drives it. As blockbuster thrillers sometimes put it, “Who will tell the President?”

Political pantomime

From over here, the lack of a comprehensive US energy policy and the incoherence of President Obama’s political take on energy, reminds me of a pantomime I saw last Christmas, Aladdin. The cave is full of energy riches, but ‘Emperor’ Obama – or is it Wishy-Washy? –refuses to allow the words “open sesame” to be spoken.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee, takes up the theme: “As we debate ways to reduce gas prices and provide relief to American families and businesses, this report should be required reading for every member of Congress.” How about for every American citizen too, Senator? Murkowski adds, “For the sake of our national security, our economy, and the world’s environment, we need to explore and develop more of our own resources.”

“The Obama administration has made a conscious policy choice to raise energy prices, accomplished in good measure by restricting access to domestic energy supplies.” So says Senator James Inhofe, a Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He adds forthrightly, “We could help bring affordable energy to consumers, create new jobs, and grow the economy if the Obama administration would simply get out of the way so America can realize its true energy potential.”

Wow, heavy stuff. But then there’s much to be ‘heavy’ about.

While the US is often depicted as having only a tiny minority of the world’s oil reserves at around 28 billion barrels (based on the somewhat misleading figure of ‘proven reserves’) according to the CRS in reality it has around 163 billion barrels. As Inhofe’s EPW press release comments, “That’s enough oil to maintain America’s current rates of production and replace imports from the Persian Gulf for more than 50 years”. Next up, there’s coal. The CRS report reveals America’s reserves of coal are unsurpassed, accounting for over 28 percent of the world’s coal. Much of it is high quality too. The CRS estimates US recoverable coal reserves at around 262 billion tons (not including further massive, difficult to access, Alaskan reserves). Given the US consumes around 1.2 billion tons a year, that’s a couple of centuries of coal use, at least.

U.S. Has Earth’s Largest Energy Resources

U.S. Has Earth’s Largest Energy Resources

In 2009 the CRS upped its 2006 estimate of America’s enormous natural gas deposits by 25 percent to around 2,047 trillion cubic feet, a conservative figure given the expanding shale gas revolution. At current rates of use that’s enough for around 100 years. Then there is still the, as yet largely publicly untold, story of methane hydrates to consider, a resource which the CRS reports alludes to as “immense…possibly exceeding the combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels.” According to the Inhofe’s EPW, “For perspective, if just 3 percent of this resource can be commercialized … at current rates of consumption, that level of supply would be enough to provide America’s natural gas for more than 400 years.”

See what I mean about an Aladdin’s Cave of untapped energy? Could America wish for more, not least to help make serious inroads into its runaway debt?

Obama’s State of the Union address made it perfectly clear that his energy paradigm remains wedded to a non-fossil-fuelled notion of a carbon Neverland that insists that erratic, under-performing windmills can do the job equally well. Meanwhile a myriad cast of characters are lining up to tell the Emperor that he and his energy policies have no clothes – and not just the usual suspects either.

“Ridiculous delays”

Speaking on March 11th at the IHS CERA Week conference, Politico reported former president George W. Bush as criticizing the Obama administration for delaying offshore drilling in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico spill. Not unexpected you might think. What surprised many however was ex-President Clinton, following Bush at the podium, agreed with George W. and admonished the Obama administration for its “ridiculous delays” in issuing offshore drilling permits, something the economy just “doesn’t need”. Clinton’s remarks followed on the heels of a New Orleans court ruling giving the White House 30 days to act on five outstanding drilling permits pending now for between four and nine months. In a CNN Money special, it was pointed out that the EIA “estimated the country would lose 74,000 barrels a day in oil production in 2011 as a result of a six-month drilling moratorium.”

With hundreds of thousands depending on oil and gas drilling for work, it is as yet unknown just how many of Obama’s policies are putting people out of jobs – and preventing the creation of new ones. What we do know however, is that ‘green’ jobs in the alternative energies industries just aren’t cutting the employment ice. In mid-March, anew study by Verso Consultancy estimates that for every new green job created by diverting public money into renewable energy projects in the UK, 3.7 British jobs were destroyed.

Meanwhile US energy policy persists in pursuing the myth that renewables are the economically viable future, with fossil fuels already, as the president said in January, “yesterday’s energy”. With 85 percent of global energy set to come from fossil fuels till at least 2035 no matter what wishful thinkers may prefer, current US energy policy – much like European – is pure political pantomime.

And hard to bear to bear for Americans, knowing the Aladdin’s Cave of global energy power is right beneath their feet.

Energy Tribune, 24 March 2011