This op-ed was published by The Jewish Week on March 28, 2013.
Energy companies are bombarding us with television commercials that claim hydrofracking, the controversial form of drilling for natural gas, should be allowed in New York State to increase America’s energy security.
We recently learned that oil and gas companies are making special efforts to bring their message to the Jewish community. According to a report from the JTA, these companies have recruited Jewish leaders to support their interest in expanded drilling for fossil fuels with a new organization named the Council for a Secure America.
The energy industry is targeting Jewish leaders because claims that fracking will make America more secure are persuasive to Jews, who worry about America’s dependence on Arab oil. We understand that fracking is a dangerous and dirty method of extracting natural gas that threatens our land, air and water. But we wonder whether the trade-off is worth making. Is this a case in which Jewish self-interest should trump other concerns?
Fortunately, there is no trade-off to make. America’s energy security does not depend on fracking. Despite the misleading claims of the industry, more drilling will not increase energy security. In fact, opening New York State to fracking for natural gas will make no difference in the short term and will stand in the way of investment in renewable energy that offers the only hope of increasing long term security.
Currently America imports over 11 million barrels of petroleum per day. But natural gas is a different story. America has plenty and does not depend on foreign sources. In fact, due to a glut, prices have fallen so low that fracking is a losing proposition. The industry desperately wants to export natural gas to Asia, where prices and profits are higher.
What about the long term? Cheerleaders for natural gas claim that we have enough for 100 years, but these estimates are wildly exaggerated. They are based on unrealistic assumptions that consumption will not increase and that drilling will be allowed everywhere, including environmentally sensitive areas. More realistic studies project the gas will run out in less than 50 years, even if drillers gain unrestricted access to all deposits. While they peddle these projections, the same cheerleaders are pushing Americans to use more gas than ever by substituting gas for oil in the transportation sector. But building new infrastructure based on natural gas will only lock us into the same dependence we now have on oil.
Even if we could depend on an unlimited supply of domestic natural gas, would it improve our security? Surely not. Burning fossil fuels, including oil, gas, and coal, is the main cause of climate change. And that means insecurity. The World Economic Forum recently found that 1,000 experts from industry, government, academia and civil society view rising greenhouse gas emissions as one of the three greatest threats to global stability. And a National Research Council study for the CIA warns that climate change will have serious implications for national security in the coming decade. Among the negative impacts worldwide, this report predicts conflict over water in the Middle East.
The way to insure America’s energy security is to convert our economy from dependence on fossil fuels to renewable solar and wind energy. As President Obama said in his inaugural address, “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise."
Through a combination of improvements in energy efficiency and investments in renewables, America can become energy independent. A study by Mark Delucchi and Mark Jacobson, featured in Scientific American, concluded that with aggressive policies the entire world could be powered by wind, water and solar resources by 2030. Even if that is overly optimistic, it makes no sense to invest in new infrastructure for outdated fossil fuels when we could put the same money into renewables.
New investments in renewable energy will also strengthen the bonds between the US and Israel. After the Arab oil embargo of 1973, federal policy briefly supported solar energy. Between 1984 and 1991 Luz International, an Israeli company, constructed nine solar power plants in California that continue to operate today. This year, Luz, reborn as BrightSource, will complete a plant in the Mojave Desert that will power a quarter of a million homes. That’s not all. Better Place is the world leader in establishing the infrastructure to support electric cars. Arava Power Company, developer of nine solar fields in Israel, is taking its know-how to Europe. Through the US-Israel Energy Cooperative Agreement the two countries are again jointly supporting the development of cutting edge technologies.
Governor Cuomo has an important decision to make about whether to allow fracking in New York. Increasing America’s energy security is important. But despite industry claims, that’s not what fracking will accomplish. Jews who care about energy security should let the Governor know we want him to ban fracking and put in place policies that will make New York the nation’s leader in renewable energy.