We have a president advocating an “all of the above” energy strategy.
We have a governor who has made reducing energy prices a centerpiece of his administration.
And we have heating oil and gas prices outstripping the ability of Mainers to heat their homes and travel.
In the midst of this, dozens of communities are worried they may lie in the path of “tar sands” oil piped from Canada to the United States for refining and export.
How this shakes out is being billed as the next battle in this country’s punchless war to limit carbon emissions and global warming.
If only. Our society will continue to use fossil fuels to power machinery, automobiles and the electrical grid. And it will do so based on the lowest cost per unit of energy produced — not on protesters’ wishes.
The idea that pipelines are an untenable risk is belied by the fact that the underground pipeline protested last weekend in Portland already exists — and has been operating in Maine since 1941.
In its current use, the pipeline makes Portland one of the largest oil ports in the East, with more than 200 tankers delivering oil en route to Canada annually.
The company that owns and operates the 236-mile pipeline says it has no plans to reverse the flow and bring tar sands oil from Canada to Portland.
In making their noble case for finding local solutions to global problems, protesters of a tar sands pipeline in Maine argue:
— Tar sands oil from Canada takes a lot of energy to extract and get to market, creating more emissions than solely burning it.
— Local communities get run over when plans such as pipelines nullify decades of local zoning and land-use decisions.
— Oil companies are making a lot of money.
— Pipelines break, causing spills that endanger our environment.
— And, of course, a global consensus that the planet is warming, in large measure because of human industrial activity.
All true. Put all these in the mix and last weekend’s rally against tar sands oil is understandable, even somewhat laudable.
But is waving a banner for local control going to stop a proposal that has serious economic merit at a time of high global energy prices and deep longing for industrial and manufacturing jobs?
That would be the question if there were a proposal — but, there isn’t.
Protesters who see case-by-case pipeline battles as useful foils in the larger battle against climate change and for local control would do well to start creating their vision of a sustainable energy future instead of trying to reject what has global economic forces inexorably on its side.
If economic conditions make it profitable to strip away remote forests, drill horizontally beneath the ground, suffuse water and chemicals into microscopic holes in the bedrock, pump oil to the ground, store it and send it halfway across the continent in a pipeline to store again and refine before loading it onto barges and sending it on to India, China or Brazil — then our energy problems are bigger than a few pipelines.
Want to stop tar sands?
Stop using oil. Develop alternatives like tides for electricity, biomass for heat and hybrids for transit. Shrink the grid to put generation closer to where energy is used.
Then, when gas hits $6 a gallon — and it will — there will be more options for consumers, less ridicule for those who would limit North American crude oil supply.