The real truth about energy: 7 answers to set the record straight

Flikr creative commons: kevin dooley

The state of energy today is anything but clear. Is increased oil and gas drilling the way to lower gas prices? Are natural gas and renewables the best prescription for energy independence? Will the XL Keystone pipeline create more jobs for communities? Find answers to these and more common questions in the myth-busting facts below.

1. "By producing more oil in this country, and opening up places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we can bring down prices at the pump." 

True or false?

False. Even if we did start drilling in the Arctic Refuge today, we would not see any oil for about a decade and production would lower gas prices only by an estimated 1.8 cents per gallon in 2030. Gas prices are not likely to be lowered by an increase in drilling, because price is set by demand not supply. America is currently exporting an average of 510,000 barrels a day in refined petroleum products, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA).

2. "America can achieve energy independence only if we produce more oil at home, including in places like the Arctic Refuge." 

True or false?

False. While energy independence is a worthwhile goal, fossil fuels are not the means because they are a limited resource, therefore insecure in the long-term. Renewables offer a sustainable solution to meeting our energy needs after fossil fuels run out. The U.S. only has 2 percent but uses 25 percent of worldwide oil supply, so we will never have the ability to meet our energy needs without reducing our demand. That's why fuel efficiency standards have been raised. As new cars replace older ones, this could save us as much oil as we are currently importing globally.

3. "The environmental cost of oil development in wild places is something that can be addressed later, after we’re out of the energy crisis we’re in today." 

True or false?

False. We are already being forced to deal with the “hidden” costs of oil and gas like land degradation and air pollution. After lands have been used for drilling, they are no longer good for wildlife habitat, watershed protection or outdoor recreation, leaving disrupted landscapes that can take decades to restore. In addition to contributing to global climate change, fossil fuel emissions increase health costs by about $120 billion nationwide annually

4."Oil and gas drilling – and leasing - on public lands has increased in the past decade." 

True or false?

True. Oil production has risen to its highest level since 2002, according to the EIA. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has implemented reforms that have lead to dramatic increases in the percentage of leased lands eligible for drilling. As of 2011, 38.2 million acres of public land had been leased for oil and gas development, 16.6 million of which are already active. Those that are inactive could be producing over 10 times what is available in ANWR, by the way.

5. "Natural gas is a safe way to meet our energy demands while we are transitioning away from dirtier fuels." 

True or false?

False. Natural gas extraction uses hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to release gas from shale rock thousands of feet beneath the surface, pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals (including carcinogens) underground. This risky process poses threats to our drinking water and health, as well as air quality, global climate and wildlife.

6. "Investing in renewable energy production can create U.S. jobs and boost the economy." 

True or false?

True. In fact, investments in renewables have been shown to generate roughly three times more jobs than those generated by fossil fuels-based energy. Last year renewables generated 2 million jobs, according to the DOI. Analysis has shown that continuing to develop renewable energy just on public BLM lands in western states could provide over 200,000 direct jobs over the next 20 years, while creating and providing electricity for 7 million homes.

7. "The proposed Keystone Pipeline will help create American jobs and lower gas prices." 

True or false?

False. The Keystone XL pipeline has been proposed to transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada across the Great Plains to Texan oil refineries. From the Gulf of Mexico, gasoline products could be easily exported, helping to meet Europe’s demand for diesel, but thereby having no effect on America’s gas prices. Furthermore, a report from Cornell University Global Labor Institute last fall explained: “The construction of Keystone XL will create far fewer jobs in the U.S. than its proponents have claimed and may actually destroy more jobs than it generates.” 

See also: 

42 National Parks threatened by oil and gas drilling

Obama's record on drilling and public lands

Fracking dangers: Seven ugly reasons why wilderness lovers should be worried 

Photos courtesy of Flikr creative commons: Kongakut River flows into Beaufort Sea in ANWR, Bob Clarke. Installing solar panels, OregonDOT.