Growing up in Miami, Florida, I knew next to nothing about the energy industry. As long as I could afford to put gas in my car and the lights came on when I needed them, I was happy. I had no clue — like many Americans — how essential energy is to every aspect of our lives.
After the manager of a successful land management firm took a chance on a young, ignorant college kid who just needed a job, my eyes were opened to the reality of just how dependent our modern, comfortable lives are on access to energy and how important it is that we keep producing energy here in the United States.
It’s a truth I wish more people my age knew.
Vice President Joe Biden, who many in the media are projecting to be our next president, wants to eliminate fossil fuels — using “death by a thousand regulatory cuts” if not an outright ban — but also wants restaurants to install plexiglass between tables to stop the spread of COVID-19. But where does plexiglass come from? Like all plastics, it’s derived from natural gas. So is the PPE protecting our doctors and nurses, not to mention the parts for our computers, smartphones, cars, appliances, and nearly everything we use. And, of course, there’s the electricity that powers all those devices.
Opposing oil and gas while enjoying the benefits of affordable, reliable energy — from basic necessities like clean running water to modern conveniences like Amazon Prime — makes these activists walking contradictions. Even the most strident anti-energy protestor would be hard-pressed to get through their day without fossil fuels.
The tales spun by the media about oil and gas destroying the planet couldn’t be further from the truth, yet they’re all most people outside oil-patch towns ever hear about energy. What news headlines, sound bites, and cardboard protest signs don’t tell you is how energy has created the most prosperous time in human history without sacrificing environmental quality.
It’s sad to see so much ignorance about the energy industry, especially on the left side of the aisle. Biden says he’ll make it his mission to transition the country to 100% renewable energy. It’s an impossible goal, but I understand why he’s been so vocal. “Going green” is popular among the general public. After all, who would be against the environment?
I wish I could invite everyone to come with me to visit an oil well. In the few years since I started working in the industry, first as a landman and now as an oil and gas accountant, I’ve come to realize just how much work it takes to keep rigs functioning and how much care is taken to protect our environment. The men and women harvesting the energy we use every day care deeply about preserving our country’s natural beauty and go to great lengths to ensure the laws we have to protect the environment are followed.
These companies are working hard to provide America with our energy needs the right way. And it’s working — over the last 50 years, the U.S. has cut key air pollutants by more than three-fourths while increasing our energy production, population, and economy.
We should celebrate being a global environmental leader — and look carefully at proposals to create more red tape to ensure the environmental benefit is worth making energy production more complicated and expensive.
That would be the inevitable result of Biden’s energy plans, because ditching fossil fuels isn’t as easy as it sounds. Solar and wind energy are what industry experts call “diffuse”: they produce a small amount of electricity over a vast amount of land, an environmental impact few people recognize. And they can’t be depended on to produce the kind of constant power our society needs to function, since they depend on the weather.
Because they are intermittent by nature, wind and solar also make energy more expensive. That’s a problem for the countless millions of families already struggling to make ends meet, and it limits the potential of American energy exports to help improve lives and fight poverty around the world.
America cannot meet its energy needs when the oil and gas industry is being taxed and regulated out of existence, Green New Deal or no deal. We must allow the businesses working every day to power our nation to flourish and grow — and the men and women working there should never be ashamed of the work we do.
American energy does a lot of good for our country and the world. Biden should recognize that.
This commentary originally appeared in the Houston Courant on January 11, 2020.