Former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge kicked off the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s “Shale Gas Insight” conference with a blunt message: the more natural gas the United States extracts from shale rock, the safer the country will be.
How’s that work? The Republican began his morning speech with the well-worn argument that the U.S. imports way too much oil from foreign counties. He called federal energy independence plans “a mirage,” adding, “In 2010, our bill for foreign oil was a quarter trillion dollars….we still have no national energy policy
“We now import 3.5 billion barrels [of oil] annually,” he said, “compared with roughly a third of that in 1973. …It’s one thing to get oil from counties like Canada…. But we also import from counties who aren’t such good friends. Nations such as Algeria and Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Syria and Nigeria and Venezuela and Chad. All of those countries are on the State Department’s travel warning list. Now think about this picture and ask yourself what’s wrong…we travel, in this country, on their oil. But it’s not safe for us to travel in their country.” Ridge went on to call the United States’ relationship with these countries “toxic, both literally and figuratively.”
“We need a national all-in energy policy that’s realistic and practical, not rhetorical and illusory.” And predictably, given the fact we’re here at a conference about natural gas drilling, Ridge said hydraulic fracturing and shale gas should be the cornerstone of that new policy. “We are truly an energy-rich country,” he said. “And natural gas should be at the forefront of the energy revolution.” The more energy the United States extracts from within its borders, Ridge argued, the less it will need from the Middle East. “Made in America, when it comes to energy, is in my mind just a synonym for national security.”
Ridge spent about a year lobbying for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, and clearly believes in the industry group’s product. “When gas is taken from the ground by hydraulic fracturing, it provides the least environmental distribution of any current base load fuel,” he said. “And when it is used, it has only half the carbon emissions of coal, and virtually zero particulate emissions.” A substantial number of people – many of whom are protesting outside the convention center – are concerned about hydraulic fracturing’s safety. They’re worried the chemicals used in the process will contaminate drinking water. Ridge dismissed the worry as “phony hysteria.”
Ridge promised gas extraction will improve the economy, too. “Jobs that arise from clean energy are not just for those in the energy industry, but for those in virtually every industrial activity,” he argued. “Transportation, manufacturing, construction, power generation, and even more benefactors. And they flow to schools, community development, recreation and culture activities.”
Ridge dinged the federal government for not investing more money in “there’s not much discussion within the political class about natural gas. It seems at times to be about everything but natural gas.” He called subsidies for renewable energy efforts “baffling,” adding, “most renewables are very costly, and will take awhile to become reliable, sustainable regional and economic sources of energy. I’m not saying we should stop pursuing them…but clean energies still cost vastly more than fossil fuels.”
Toward the end of his speech, the former governor tried to tie natural gas to the country’s long history of energy extraction. “We must decide whether we will lead the transformation, or be led by others. I prefer the former.” He tied natural gas into the country’s long history of extraction. “Coal powered America into the industrial age in the 19th Century. Oil propelled American citizens into the transportation age of the 20th Century. Natural gas should lead the energy revolution, and be the foundation fuel, of the 21st Century.” Of course, both the oil and coal boom devastated Pennsylvania’s natural resources. Ridge said gas drillers have learned the lessons from those extraction cycles.
Ridge is the first of three Pennsylvania governors to address the convention. Democrat Ed Rendell will speak this evening, and incumbent Tom Corbett, a Republican, will deliver a speech tomorrow. We’ll have full coverage of both upcoming speeches.