The Journal Editorial Report | January 7, 2005 | PBS
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Briefing and Opinion
January 7, 2005

Alternative Oil Sources

Paul GigotPAUL GIGOT: Joining us for this part of the program is Senior Editorial Page writer, Kim Strassel, who covers energy issues. Kim, if there's one thing that's clear from piece it's that energy independence, so-called, is not going to be achieved any time soon. How much should we really worry about this, and the regular supply of oil?

KIM STRASSEL: We shouldn't. I mean, this is one of those issues that people love to wring their hands about, but it's been totally overstated. We live in a global economy and we get a lot of things from different countries. Oil is just one of them.

What we should care about is that we're never too dependent on one source of oil and we should also care about whether America has a consistent, steady and growing supply to cushion us in case there ever are supply disruptions. That's why, when Republicans go to take up an energy bill this year, the hope is that we do have some sort of thoughtful debate about supply in this country.

GIGOT: Particularly drilling in Alaska. How much of foreign oil imports would that displace, if any?

Kim StrasselSTRASSEL: Well it could be really significant. I mean, people like to talk about our dependence on the Middle East. The reality is that if we got ANWR up and running, most of the estimates are that it could replace the oil that we currently get from Saudi Arabia from anywhere from 20 to 30 years. That's not insignificant.

GIGOT: There's also some good news on energy consumption, in the sense that our economy now is much less dependent on oil as a general matter than it was 30 years ago because of technology, because of the growth in services, that sort of thing.

Rob, what about these alternative energy sources? Do you see any of them coming down? The piece was reasonably optimistic about some of them. There's still a small portion of electrical production in our country. Do you see any of them yielding fruit down the road?

ROBERT POLLOCK: Rob PollackThe only one that has so far proven to be practical is nuclear energy. We haven't built a nuclear plant in this country for at least 25 years, I think for political reasons. It's not as if the whole world feels badly about nuclear energy. The Europeans love nuclear energy. The French have tons of it. It's all over Europe.

GIGOT: In fact, if you tour the French countryside, you'll see the water cooling towers for nuclear energy. Japan uses it quite a bit.

STRASSEL: If you are looking for things to be happy about, that one of the things the Bush Administration has done over the past four years is really try to give a lot more certainly in the regulatory arena for nuclear, which is why we are, for the first time, talking about making some new nuclear power plants.

GIGOT: Are we really? Is that a real possibility?

STRASSEL: It is. There's going to be some time there, some questions about raising capital and whether or not there is enough certainty in the future for investors to go ahead. But it is finally on the table again.

POLLOCK: There's a lot of new nuclear technologies that are much safer than the old ones that we could use to build the new plants, if they were allowed to be built.

GIGOT: So we don't necessarily have to fear another Three Mile Island.

STRASSEL: If you're an environmentalist, you should love nuclear energy because it's pollution free.

GIGOT: No global warming at any rate.

Daniel HenningerDANIEL HENNINGER: I think there's an 800 pound gorilla that's entered this debate which is going to totally change the terms of the debate about alternative fuels, and that's China. It's not that China has all these needs. It's the fact that just this past week THE WALL STREET JOURNAL reported that China is thinking of taking over buying Unocal, the ninth largest American oil company. China is doing deals with Canada to explore their oil sands fields. China is doing deals with Iran. India is doing deals with Iran. China is going to buy a piece of Russia's oil company. Now, if you think that the United States is going to saddle itself with expensive alternative fuels while China and India are roaring ahead on cheap oil, it ain't going to happen. It just isn't.

GIGOT: We don't have a lot of time left, Kim, but Congress has been debating and debating and debating an energy bill. Maybe this year they'll finally get it passed. Just quickly, what are two or the three things that could really help in that bill?

STRASSEL: Well, it should all be focused on supply and the main thing should be opening up ANWR. But it is also important to take a serious look at some of the restrictions that currently needlessly stop energy companies from doing the kind of exploration and development we need here.