A New Rocky Mountain Low: Energy Security at the Expense of National Security?

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The Rocky Mountain News published a strongly pro-tar sands Op Ed from a Colorado petroleum geologist over the weekend, entitled “Oil sands spell energy security.”

I don’t claim to have aced any spelling bees — but I do know my A-B-C’s and enough about tar sands to be surprised that The Rocky would publish such a wrong-headed opinion piece. Not only does it border on climate change denial, but the central theme of the piece is out of line with the American defense and intelligence communities.

Quick review: tar sands oil is mined in Alberta where sludgy sand is heated and agitated to yield ultra-low quality petroleum. In the process of digging up two tons of Earth for every barrel of “oil” produced, incredible amounts of water are used spoiled and dumped into toxic lakes while huge tracts of the Boreal forest are ripped to the ground. The result? Goop that is piped into the US for refining into a fuel that emits three times the global warming emissions of standard petroleum. It’s a lose-lose for everybody!

And those emissions are the crux of the problem for The Rocky’s Op Ed. In the last year we have seen a growing number of reports (Department of the Navy and CIA) and Congressional testimonies that detail the growing concern over global warming in intelligence circles. They cite destabilization of weak regimes, increased competition for resources, and a huge population of environmental refugees that could have frightening geopolitical impacts in the coming decades.

Among the concerned are a growing who’s who of prominent defense and intelligence figures with names that sound pretty familiar.

There is retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni. The former commander of American forces in the Middle East and a co-author of a report warning that global warming poses a threat so huge that:

The only comparable experiences for many in the group was considering what the aftermath of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange might have entailed during the height of the Cold War.

He told the LA Times, “We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today … or we’ll pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives.”

That report came from the Center for Strategic & International Studies — a group that is also associated with General Wesley Clark and a long list of Generals and Admirals who likely know a thing or two about protecting American interests in the world. If they are worried, we all should be…

The report underscores an essential point that the petroleum geologist who penned the Op Ed seems to have missed — relying on dirtier and dirtier oil (like tar sand and oil shale) simply substitutes one problem with a far bigger one. Weaning ourselves from Middleastern oil does little good if we remain addicted to fuels that speed the impacts of global warming. Particularly when these dirtier fuels also impact essential fresh water supplies, a commodity that all agree will be far more valuable than oil in the coming years.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey gets it. He is absolutely focused on energy independence — but he recognizes the inherent need to get serious about the move to kick the¬†oil habit¬†completely. He can be seen in a number of very prominent efforts to deal with the issue responsibly (including this NRDC anti-coal-to-liquid film, another frighteningly dirty fuel) advocating for plug-in hybrid cars and renewable energy sources.

The Op Ed questions the work of NRDC and repeats a litany of empty promises that have been made by the Alberta government and oil companies before proclaiming:

Environmental groups pretend as if the United States has nothing to gain from access to Canada’s oil sands.

It is not pretend. And to proclaim otherwise is simply short-sighted (unless you are advocating for oil company profits)…

Luckily, there are plenty in America’s defense and intelligence communities who will speak out against increased usage of Alberta’s goo. They understand the dangers and the fact that national security and energy security are not always the same.

If you read the comments accompanying the Op Ed online, plenty of folks in Denver see the difference too. Maybe The Rocky will catch up and print some of those scalding responses in their Opinion pages too…