Saturday, 05 December 2015 05:12

Romney's Historic Opportunity: Low-Cost Energy Fuels Economic Recovery

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Romney's Historic Opportunity: Low-Cost Energy Fuels Economic Recovery

S. Fred Singer

S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and director of the Science & Environmental Policy Project. His specialty is atmospheric and space physics. An expert in remote sensing and satellites, he served as the founding director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service and, more recently, as vice chair of the U.S. National Advisory Committee on Oceans & Atmosphere.
This Essay was first published by the American Thinker; they have given permission for republication.

Energy, the life-blood of the economy, is the Achilles heel of President Barack Obama. Mitt Romney can win the November election if he concentrates his campaign on a sensible energy policy.

As a presumed candidate for the U.S. presidency, Romney should spell out now a coherent policy of low-cost and secure energy that would boost the U.S. economy, ensure jobs and prosperity, and raise people up from poverty. Fundamentally, he and his surrogates must educate and inspire the public.

He should pledge specific goals: Lower gasoline prices; cheaper household electricity; cheaper fertilizer for farmers, and lower food prices for everybody; cheaper transport fuels for aviation and for the trucking industry; lower raw material costs for the chemical industry. He should also indicate the kind of people who would be part of his team, who would fill the crucial posts and carry out these policies. His running mate should have a record of endorsing these goals.

Obama Has Made It Easy for Romney

It's a winning situation for Romney; Obama has already provided him most of the ammunition:

* Under Obama, the price of gasoline has more than doubled, from $1.80 (U.S. average), and will likely reach $4 a gallon. His Secretary of Energy, Dr. Chu, wanted the price to rise to "European levels of $8 to $10." It is really hurting the middle class, particularly the two-car couples who must commute to work. Yet everything Obama has done or is doing is making the situation worse.
* He has vetoed the Keystone pipeline, which would have brought increasing amounts of oil from Canada to Gulf-Coast refineries, created "shovel-ready" jobs, and improved energy security.
* He has kept much federal land off limits for oil and gas production - particularly in Alaska and offshore (including my home state Virginia). The Alaska pipeline is in danger of running dry. Even where exploration is permitted, drilling permits are hard to obtain because of bureaucratic opposition
* To Obama, oil is a "fuel of the past;" not so to millions of drivers. He's looking to put algae in their gas tanks - the latest bio-fuel scheme! In his 2008 campaign, Obama promised that under his regime electricity prices would "skyrocket." He seems to have kept his promise - with help from the misguided "Renewable Electricity Standard," which mandates utilities to buy costly "green" energy from solar/wind projects and effectively become tax collectors.
* He also promised that potential builders of coal-fired power plants would go "bankrupt." That too would happen, thanks to extreme, onerous EPA regulation. The latest EPA plan would stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants by setting impossible-to-obtain emission limits for carbon dioxide. True, EPA has made exceptions if the power plant can capture and sequester the emitted CO2; but the technology to do this is not available and its cost would be prohibitive.
* His EPA is on a warpath against the use of coal. It seems likely that, if Obama is re-elected, EPA will use the CO2 excuse to also close down existing coal-fired plants - and may not permit the construction of any fossil-fueled power plants at all, including even those fired by natural gas, which emits only about half as much CO2 as coal. The California PUC has already banned gas plants (on April 19, 2012) in order to reach their unrealistic goal of 33 percent green electricity.
* One can see the signs of impending EPA efforts to stop the exploitation of shale gas by horizontal drilling, using the claim that "fracking" causes water pollution. What's next?

The only explanation for this irrational behavior: The Obama administration, from top to bottom, seems possessed by pathological fear of catastrophic global warming and obsessed with the idea that no matter what happens to the economy or jobs, it must stop the emission of CO2.

The situation is tailor-made for Romney to launch an aggressive campaign to counter current energy policy - and the even worse one that is likely to be put in place if Obama is re-elected.

What Romney Must Do to Win the November Election

Romney has to make it quite clear to potential voters why low-cost energy is absolutely essential for economic recovery, for producing jobs, and for increasing average income - especially for the middle-class family, which is now spending too much of its budget on energy essentials. Romney should hold out the entirely realistic prospect of U.S. energy independence - often promised but never before achieved - or even of the U.S. becoming an energy exporter.

* Romney can confidently promise to reduce the price of gasoline to $2.50 a gallon or less, with a gracious tip of the hat to Newt Gingrich, who had proposed such a goal in one of his campaign speeches. To accomplish this, the world price of oil would have to fall below $60 a barrel from its recent $110.
* But this bright energy promise is entirely possible due to the low price of natural gas, which has fallen to $2 from its 2008 peak of $13 per mcf (1000 cubic feet) - and is still trending downward. All that Romney has to do is to remove existing regulatory roadblocks to the largest extent possible.

It is essential to recognize three important economic facts:

* Since many of the newly drilled wells also produce high-value oil and NGL (natural gas liquids), natural gas becomes a by-product that can be profitably sold at even lower prices.
* Natural gas currently sells for less than 15 percent of the average price of crude oil, on an energy/BTU basis. This means that it pays to replace oil-based fuels, such as diesel and gasoline, with either liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG). This may be the most economical and quickest replacement for heavy road-vehicles, earth movers. diesel-electric trains, buses, and fleet vehicles.
* It also becomes profitable to convert natural gas directly to gasoline or diesel by chemical processing in plants that are very similar to refineries. Forget about methanol, hydrogen, and other exotics. Such direct conversion would use the existing infrastructure; it is commercially feasible, the technology is proven, and the profit potential is evident - even if the conversion efficiency is only modest, say 50 percent.

Thanks to cheap natural gas, Romney's promise for lower gasoline prices is easily fulfilled: With reduced demand and increased supply globally, the world price of oil will decline and so will the price of transportation fuel. So by satisfying transportation needs for fuel, it should be possible to reduce, rather quickly, oil imports from overseas; at present, 60 percent of all imports (in dollars) are for oil. At the same time, oil production can be increased domestically and throughout North America. The U.S. is on its way to become not only energy-independent but also an exporter of motor fuels - with a huge improvement in its balance of payments.

Another promise Romney can confidently make is that he will cut the price of electricity in half - or even lower. This promise can be fulfilled not only by the low price of natural gas but also by the much higher efficiency of gas-fired power plants that can easily reach 60 percent or more, compared to the present 35-40 percent for nuclear or coal-fired plants. Higher efficiencies reduce not only the cost of fuel (per kilowatt-hour) but effectively lower the capital cost (per kilowatt).

Efficiencies can be raised even higher with "distributed" electric generation, if such gas-fired power plants are located in urban centers where co-generation becomes an attractive possibility. This would use the low-temperature heat that is normally discharged into the environment (and wasted) to provide hot water for space heating and many other applications of an urban area: snow and ice removal, laundry, and even cooling and water desalination. Again, this is proven technology and the economics may be very favorable. Distributed generation also improves security (against terrorism and natural disasters) and simplifies the disposal of waste heat.

Low-cost natural gas can also provide the basic raw material for cheap fertilizer for farmers, thus lowering food prices, and feedstock for chemical plants for cheaper plastics and other basic materials. Industries can now return to the United States and provide jobs locally - instead of operating offshore where natural gas has been cheap.

With the exploitation of the enormous gas-hydrate resource in the offing, once the technology is developed, the future never looked brighter. Somehow, Romney must convey this optimistic outlook to the voting public.

Slaying the "Green Dragon"

Romney should speak out on the "hoax" (to use Senator James Inhofe's term) of climate catastrophes from rising CO2 levels. He should also make it clear that there is no need for large-scale wind energy or solar electricity - and even the construction of nuclear plants can be postponed. Many environmentalists will be relieved to avoid covering the landscape with solar mirrors, windmills and - yes - hundreds of miles of electric transmission lines and towers.

In his book Throw Them All Out, Peter Schweizer reports that 80 percent of the Department of Energy's multi-billion green loans, loan guarantees, and grants went to Obama backers. Romney should proclaim that there will be no more Solyndras or other boondoggles, and no need for government subsidies for "green energy" or for crony capitalism. The marketplace would decide the future of novel technologies, such as electric cars, solar devices, etc. Many Washington lobbyists will lose their cushy jobs.

There's absolutely no need for bio-fuels either. Yes, that includes algae as well as ethanol, which is now consuming some 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop. The world price of corn has tripled in the past five years - even as EPA plans to increase the ethanol percentage of motor fuels from 10 to 15 percent! True environmentalists are well aware of the many drawbacks of bio-fuels, the damage they do to croplands and forests in the U.S., and overseas, and to the vast areas they require that could be devoted to natural habitats.

Finally, Romney should make it clear that if elected he would appoint a secretary of energy, secretary of interior, administrator of NOAA, and administrator of EPA who share his convictions about energy. Above all, he should recruit a White House staff, including a Science Adviser, who will bring the promise of low-cost, secure energy to the American economy. *

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