OpinionTop of the Ticket

Even as climate change turns up the heat, we go on fracking

PoliticsScienceNatural ResourcesGlobal WarmingEnergy ResourcesEcosystemsEnvironmental Issues

In the midst of a broiling summer that is burning up crops and killing people, a lot of Americans, including most of the leaders of one of our two major political parties, do not think climate change is a problem. Like ostriches with their heads stuck in the tar sands, they want to go on fracking like there's no tomorrow.

The dubious good news is that there is far more oil and natural gas in North America than anyone knew until very recently. If fully utilized, it could end America's dependence on oil from the Middle East. The significant bad news is that most of it is not easy to reach. That means we can't just drill a well and bring the stuff to the surface.

A relatively new technology called hydro-fracking is being employed to get at the stuff. Fracking involves pumping huge amounts of water and chemicals into the earth and forcing the oil and gas to the surface. The oil companies, as you might guess, say there is no harm done by this process. Environmentalists claim there is huge potential for pollution.

A vast new source of oil lies in the tar sands of Alberta. This is very dirty stuff that also must be forced to the surface. Canada wants to ship the product from these tar sands south through a pipeline that would span the U.S. from the northern border to Houston. In an environmentalist's nightmarish version of symbiosis, condensate, a gaseous liquid byproduct of small fracking operations in the United States, may be shipped north for use in extraction of the tar sands.

The Keystone XL pipeline project that would deliver the dirty crude from Canada to Houston was to be routed right across the Ogallala Aquifer that underlays a broad area of the Great Plains. President Obama has nixed the plan, at least for now, and Republicans are beating him up for it. They say the pipeline project will create tens of thousands of new jobs and will put America on the path to energy independence.

The Republicans may not have their numbers straight. The State Department, the entity that must give approval to the international project, found that the number of jobs created would only amount to a few thousand temporary jobs and just a few hundred permanent ones. In addition, environmentalists point out that the reason the Canadians want their oil shipped to Houston is so that it can be refined and then shipped abroad. So much for energy independence.

And what does this have to do with the extreme weather we are experiencing? Why is it that climate extremes have tipped from a ratio of one really cold day for one really hot day each year to this year's ratio of seven hots to every cold one? In the words of climate scientists, "This is what global warming looks like." Those climate scientists are also saying, "I told you so."

For a generation and more, most of the credible scientists on the planet have warned that global warming is real and a clear sign of its coming would be extreme weather that leads to catastrophic results, such as huge wildfires and freak storms. This summer sure looks exactly like that.

Wise political leaders would be shifting us away from fossil fuels as an energy source because carbon emissions exacerbate the global warming phenomenon. But not only has very little progess been made in that direction, but virtually all Republicans and many Democrats in Congress are determined to exploit the dirtiest reservoirs of oil in the name of energy independence.

That is not independence; that is feeding an addiction.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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