CN October 4, 2012

At Wednesday’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney, explaining what would be his energy policy, said the following:

Mr. President, all of the increase in natural gas and oil has happened on private land, not on government land. On government land, your administration has cut the number of permits and licenses in half. If I’m president, I’ll double them, and also get the — the oil from offshore and Alaska. And I’ll bring that pipeline in from Canada.

Kari Leydersen is this week’s guest.  A well-respected Chicago reporter who has traveled the country observing energy extraction processes, she says the situation isn’t that simple.

“This whole idea of energy security he’s alluding to – that we need to tap the coal and the gas as though that somehow makes us safer and gives us cheaper, better energy – all these things are world markets.”

In fact, the introduction of incredibly inexpensive natural gas to the domestic market – through the use of hydraulic fracturing, which extracts pockets of gas from thousand of feet underground – has the potential to skew the entire world energy mix in the short term. The availability of cheap, plentiful gas has resulted in the construction of new power plants that can be built inexpensively and have many fewer pollution issues. So coal plants – like Chicago’s State Line, Crawford and Fisk – are being closed.

But don’t look for a net reduction in global pollution.  “Because of all these power plants closing, the coal companies are really looking to ramp up their exports to China, and possibly to Europe. They don’t care where the coal goes as long as they get the money,” she explains.

And to further complicate matters, the American gas producers, looking for higher prices, are investing in liquefaction plants and tankers, so they can ship gas around the world. That’ll raise the price of gas, which might make oil and coal more attractive here in a few years.

What it all comes down to is that our demand for electricity keeps rising. It’s not just our big new TVs. It’s also the looming demand for plug-in hybrid cars.

Leydersen has researched efforts to bring large-scale renewable energy to market. She was recently in Germany, where they confidently predict that they’ll get 80% of their energy from wind, solar and other sources. But that’s a long way from reality in the U.S., where “drill baby drill” remains a favored solution.

Leydersen has also reported extensively on labor issues. She sees the recently-settled CTU strike as an important victory for labor in general, but cautions against some of the more euphoric predictions.

“It will have lasting impact both in terms of showing that a union can get what they want to a large degree by being bold and by risking alienating some people, and it focused a lot of attention on the school reform debate, she says. “But that alone is not going to change labor relations in the U.S. or in Chicago. And in some ways it might make it harder for some unions, too, because some segment of the population, probably a small segment, may feel more negatively about labor than they did before. I mean, the Mayor probably does.”


About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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