Marita Noon: The liberty and energy connection
Why mountaintop removal, fracking, and tar sands make America Great
Following my appearance on the Daily Show, I’ve received emails and phone calls from people who don’t agree with my views about energy and the advantages America’s energy abundance provides—benefits that drive both progress and prosperity.
Some of the emails can’t be read in polite company, but one that can asked: “Please explain how energy from mountain top removal, fracking, and tar sands makes America great.” The word choices Greg selected tell me that he isn’t truly seeking enlightenment and is instead aiming to antagonize me. The next day, he sent another: “I have yet to hear back on this simple question. Please respond.” It does seem like a simple question. One I should be able to answer in an instant. But I didn’t want to offer platitudes. I felt the question deserved a thoughtful answer. So, Greg, here you are.
I’ve spent the past couple of days at a conference on “Energy, Economics and Liberty.” There discussions took place on the energy debate, government’s role, market solutions, and the geo-politics of energy. About twenty men—all experts in various aspects of energy—attended. I wasn’t just the only female I was the only energy advocate. The topics brought Greg’s request to mind and the conversations helped form the answers.
One of the participants, Jim Clarkson, wrote an article titled: “The Shale Gas Paradigm,” in which he states: “Increased access to energy is a key to economic progress in the undeveloped world.” Similarly, in my book, Energy Freedom, I quote Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry, who says: “Electricity is the energy commodity that separates the developed countries from the rest. Countries that can provide cheap and reliable electric power to their citizens can grow their economies and create wealth. Those who can’t, can’t.”
Senate Major Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) once said: “Oil and gas are making us sick.” But I contend that they—along with coal—are the very things keeping us well. In Energy Freedom’s introduction, I point out: “Energy saves lives. When fire strikes or hurricanes are bearing down upon a city, it is energy—in this case in the form of gasoline—that allows people to drive away and escape death. … When weather is extreme, it is energy—usually in the form of electricity (most frequently from coal or natural gas)—that keeps people alive. Air conditioning allows people to live in comfort in Arizona in the summer. Heating keeps people from freezing to death in Alaska in the winter. Energy keeps us well. Energy makes us comfortable.”
The Energy, Economics and Liberty conference was hosted by the Liberty Fund. On its website, it offers this definition of liberty: “the beginning and the source of happiness from which all beneficial things flow in return.” Much like liberty, energy is the source from which many beneficial things flow. Energy has been a source of America’s freedom, a big part of what has made America great.
The conflicts in Ukraine have made the importance of energy freedom clear. Because of being on the Daily Show talking about fracking, I’ve been given other opportunities to address the topic. One was with former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura for his show Off the Grid. At the end of the twenty-minute interview, he asked me for closing comments. I said something like: “Because of fracking, OPEC would never be able to use energy as a weapon as it did to America in 1973 and as we see Russia doing to Ukraine today.”
Greg’s email to me used terms that lead to three different energy sources: coal, natural gas, and oil—and each have been big contributors to America’s progress and prosperity. Each has made the personal lives of Americans more pleasant and less painful. Together these energy sources have made America energy secure.
The email used the term “mountain top removal,” which is a method by which coal can be mined. It is safer than underground mines because it removes the risk of mine accidents, the horror of which we’ve recently witnessed in Turkey. (Note: America has far more stringent mining regulations today than does most of the world.) Greg likely selected the term “mountain top removal” because it sounds harsh. In fact, in the mountainous regions of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, this surface mining process allows for hospitals, housing developments, shopping centers to be built—all which bring more economic development and much needed jobs.
I’ve toured regions where “mountain top removal” is being done and stood on top of the massive coal seam. The procedure is amazing. Picture the region like lots of upside down ice cream cones next to each other. Hills and valleys—but no place to create a community. In that mountain is a thick layer of coal that goes all the way through the mountain, north to south, east to west. To access it, the dirt, the tip of the ice cream cone, is taken off and the coal is removed.
In the past, when the coal had been extracted, a private landowner could ask the mining company to level out the land—making it economically productive. However, today’s regulations take away that property owner’s rights and require that the mountain be rebuilt and put back to its original condition. If the landowner wants to turn his land into a housing development, he then has to incur the expense of, once again, removing the peak and leveling the land.
The coal provides, and has provided, America with low-cost, base-load electricity—which, as we’ve already addressed, has given us a competitive advantage in the global marketplace and unmatched personal progress. And, therefore, energy from mountain top removal makes America Great.
Fracking—short for hydraulic fracturing—combined with the amazing technology of horizontal drilling, has brought America into a new era of energy abundance. Clarkson states: “Gas using industries are expanding while we enjoy a distinct advantage over the rest of the world.” He explains: “Shale gas lay worthless beneath the earth’s surface for the whole of man’s previous existence until human intelligence made it valuable”—and that was done with fracking.
One of the definitions of liberty found at Dictionary.com is: “freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.” Clarkson points out: “There were no federal programs with subsidies, tax breaks, and mandated markets to favor the shale industry. …The new shale order of things is a triumph of free enterprise over government planning. The shale revolution shows that the good old American know-how and individual initiative that made this country great have survived the burden of big government and can still create economic miracles.” Clarkson closes with: “Some observers are already calling this the century of natural gas. This could also be the century of prosperity, free markets, and optimism as America regains its energy mojo.”
Unlike the pariah Greg presumes fracking to be, it is responsible for the shale gas phenomena.
Last, Greg asked about tar sands and how they make America great. Tar sands, or oil sands, allow America to get oil from our friendly Canadian neighbor and reduce our need to import OPEC’s oil. We then refine that oil into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel that fuels our transportation fleet—something that wind and solar power cannot do.
I have been to the oil sands of Canada and what they are doing there is, like fracking and horizontal drilling, a technological miracle.
If you have ever walked on a California beach and stepped on a tar ball (created when the oil seeps out of the ground and is washed ashore mixed with sand), you have a clue what the tar sands are like. The naturally occurring tar sands are a layer in the earth (much like coal). This layer has raw crude oil mixed with the dirt/sands. I recall driving to the tar sands from the town where we stayed. As the elevation increased, I noticed that trees reached a certain height and then died. It was explained that as soon as the roots hit the bitumen (or tar) it kills the tree.
At the extraction site, the tar sands are bulldozed and dumped into giant trucks (much like surface coal mining). The tar and sand mixture is processed to separate the oil and the sand. (Think of taking that tar ball from the beach and boiling it. The oil melts and floats while the sand drops to the bottom.) The oil is now available for use and the clean sand is put back into the earth—only now the trees can actually grow. The reclaimed land is teeming with wildlife that lives in the healthy forest the extraction process provides. As a result, when the Keystone pipeline is approved, America would be far less dependent on people who aim to do us harm and OPEC couldn’t cause an instant recession as it did in 1973. Plus, Keystone will be safer and cheaper—not to mention creating more jobs—than shipping the oil via rail as we are currently doing.
And that, Greg, is how tar sands can make America greater.
Yes, mountain top removal—or coal; fracking—or natural gas; and tar sands—or oil, make America great. The use of natural resources are a part of liberty: “freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.”
People like Greg want to interfere, restrict, and hamper North America’s energy abundance—which will take away America’s ability to provide cheap and reliable power to her citizens and take away the ability to grow the economy and create wealth. Why would anyone want to do that?
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.