There’s even more oil and natural gas waiting offshore. But again, federal law prohibits drilling for it. Some 85 percent of offshore fields are closed, leaving only those in the central and western Gulf of Mexico open to exploration.
Ironically, that’s exactly where Hurricanes Katrina and Rita swept through last year, and there’s a lesson in that. Even though many oil platforms took direct hits from hurricanes, there was little environmental damage to the Gulf. Surely that should prove it’s safe to drill elsewhere.
But oil isn’t our only energy concern. The U.S. also needs new power plants.
Every summer, portions of the country suffer a heat wave, reminding us that our electrical capacity is stretched to the max. But when the temperature drops, so does the sense of urgency. For example, after California suffered rolling blackouts in 2001, residents understood it was important to build more power plants, and energy regulators okayed 23 new ones. But by 2004, with the crisis virtually forgotten, only eight new plants were approved. Last year there were two approvals, and this year there haven’t been any. And when the weather turned hot this summer, California’s power grid was again strained.
We simply don’t have enough new plants coming online to meet demand. The government’s Energy Information Administration says providers plan to add 94 gigawatts of electricity over the next five years, far less than the 227 gigawatts added over the last five years.
That will cause problems. At peak periods our system operates at full capacity, and there’s little doubt we’ll need even more power in years to come if we want to keep our air conditioners, computers and flat screen TVs running.
We need more nuclear plants (the last commercial nuclear plant was ordered in 1973) and more clean coal plants (the U.S. has enough coal to last for hundreds of years). And, since it takes years to bring a plant online, we need to start building right away.
Next summer will be hot, and so will every summer after that. We’d better increase our supply of energy while we can. Or else eventually we’ll all be in the dark.