How sustainable is Obama’s energy plan?

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday, Jan. 24, at the U.S. Capitol. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

In his latest State of the Union address, President Barack Obama laid out his energy agenda, which included the strange and perhaps ominous statement, “This country needs an all-out, all-of-the above strategy that develops every available source of American energy — a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs.”

Given questions regarding reliable sources of energy, the poor economy and the desperate job situation, the call to develop every available source of American energy has a ring of boosterism that could produce a level of energy development that would increase our commitment to fossil fuels, invest heavily in the existing infrastructure and leave in its wake a wide swath of adverse environmental impacts.

Obama’s call to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources for exploration was linked to the importance of breaking the country’s dependence on foreign oil. Even if the combination of offshore oil and oil shale production reaches an expected level of 7 million barrels per day by 2020, it would still fall far short of the 19 million barrels we consume today.

His claim of having supplies of natural gas for nearly 100 years seems overly optimistic, given the Department of Energy’s estimates that Marcellus shale will yield only six years, supply, not the previously projected 17 years. While the federal government provided funding to develop technologies to harvest fossil fuels from shale, no mention was made that it excluded the industry from Environmental Protection Agency oversight of its impact on air and water quality.

While requiring all companies drilling for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use was offered as a reassurance that the resource will be developed without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk, the impact of existing projects on private lands has already raised alarms. Groundwater contamination throughout the United States, disposal of toxic fracking waste water and reports of earthquakes apparently coming from waste water wells suggest citizen health and safety is not adequately protected.

While boosting the economy, harvesting sand for the fracking industry is raising citizen ire. Hydraulic fracking involves drilling deep wells sunk into gas-bearing shale rock and pumping a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the well to fracture the rock and free the gas.

In Wisconsin, at least 20 new sand mines are being proposed, including some approaching 1,000 acres in size. Citizens living near the operations are dismayed over the loss of scenic vistas, blowing silica sand dust, around-the-clock operations of noise, lights and heavy truck traffic and water pollution.

Similar sand deposits are located near Starved Rock State Park and in Ogle County in Illinois; plans exist to expand operations in these areas. Citizens’ concerns are similar to those in Wisconsin.

To be fair, the Obama energy plan does include support for renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. But we will have to wait to see what elements of the plans are put into action and whether the renewable portion is substantial enough to be a major contributor to a clean, sustainable energy future.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the Feb. 1-7, 2012, issue

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