11/01/2012 12:44

For the U.S. to become a net exporter of energy seemed impossible only a short time ago. For years we have focused on becoming less dependent on foreign oil. “In 2011, for the first time since 1949, the U.S. became a net exporter of refined petroleum products. Several studies this year have projected that by the end of this decade, the U.S. will surpass both Russia and Saudi Arabia and become the world’s largest producer of oil and liquid natural gas.” Fareed Zakaria in TIME October 29, 2012.

            Recent developments in technology have enabled us to release large quantities of oil and natural gas from places in the earth that we thought were inaccessible. Many questions are still to be answered about the effect on the environment of retrieving oil and gas with these new methods. In general, attention is being paid to environmental impact and comprehensive studies will lead to reasonable regulation acceptable to the industry.

            “The environmental impact of the natural-gas boom is already clear – and positive. The U.S.s greenhouse-gas emissions in 2011 were 9% lower than in 2007 … The main reason is that natural gas is replacing coal everywhere as an energy source, and gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal,” explains Zaharia. 

            ComEd’s Environmental Disclosure Statement for the 12 months ending June 30, 2012 reveals that coal-fired power accounts for 43% of the source of electricity for ComEd customers.  Natural gas supplies 17%, nuclear power 35%, wind and biomass 3%. Nuclear power has low emissions of pollutants but has other well-known hazards related to its use, including the safe storage of spent fuel.

            Since we have found more sources of fossil fuel we must remember that this is still a nonrenewable source. Zaharia urges us to remember that “there is ultimately a better future for energy – namely wind, solar and other renewables – that provides unending supply, low price, and almost no environmental damage.”  Renewables need more investment in research and development and some financial support to help the industry grow large enough to become profitable. And, when our energy gets less expensive and more plentiful, we dare not forget to keep up the efforts we have  made to become more energy efficient.

            “Efficiency means a hundred different things,” says Zaharia           , “like lighter (and yet sturdier) cars made from carbon fiber or similarly light and strong materials. It also means rethinking how we build things: if considered as a separate nation, America’s buildings alone are the world’s third largest users of energy, after the rest of America and China ahead of every other country!”

            Regardless of politics, our country’s future is dependent on energy. Each of us has a part to play in using energy more efficiently.


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 10/31/12 (for publication on 11/3/12 in the Journal Standard, Freeport, Illinois) Della can be reached at