Belmont Club

Natural Gas

China finds shale in their hills: It may herald a possible energy revolution. “China is reporting discoveries of major shale gas reserves in its western Sichuan region, a development that could drastically raise its domestic fossil fuel supplies.” A Chinese official speaking in Doha said:

China will see its production of shale gas exceed levels in the US with the country becoming a major producer within a decade, Fu Chengyu, the chairman of China’s state-run Sinopec, said Wednesday.

“I think total reserves are even more than the US, so production is not less than the US, but it’s a matter of timing,” Chengyu said on the sidelines of the World Petroleum Congress in Doha.

“Like in the US, I think maybe in five or 10 years you will see a lot more shale gas produced in China,” he said.

Meanwhile the EPA finds danger underground:  “It took three years, but the EPA has finally decided that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in Wyoming has in fact been contaminating local ground water.” A blog at Time Magazine says “environmentalists—correctly, I think—seized on news of the EPA’s investigation as a possible gamechanger in the politics over fracking.” One environmentalist said:

This draft report is Exhibit A on why stronger regulation and enforcement is necessary if the general public is EVER going to believe that shale gas development is a safe source of natural gas.

If China ever develops its gas resources and America does not, the environmentalist’s comments might also be exhibit A for why that outcome occurred. Assuming this happened and all kinds of bad geopolitical and economic results flowed therefrom, who would be to blame? As a practical matter, nobody. Certainly not the environmentalists.

The costs of excessively applying a “precautionary principle” to policy are never individually borne by their advocates.  They are borne by those who are conned into believing and acting on them. At the most opprobrium may settle on whatever political cause supported those mistaken policies. But the costs of crippling a country via misguided policy are always political. They are never personal.

That’s why it’s so great to be an advocate. If you get it right, then you are famous and can make lots of money writing books. If you are wrong, you can still argue (like Jacques Delors) that the problem was not in the design but in the implementation by those idiots who strayed from your pure vision. And then you can still make lots of money writing books.

The most famous recent historical instance of a failed policy, the Baldwin-Chamberlain attitude of Appeasement towards Nazi Germany, is a case in point. That policy may have caused the Second World War, precipitated the Holocaust, killed tens of millions of people and caused untold ruin.  If ever there was a catastrophic policy that was it. Yet neither Baldwin nor Chamberlain were personally held to account. Winston Churchill even spoke at Chamberlain’s funeral and extolled his honesty and sincerity. The only price either paid was at the hands of the voters and history.

And those are ghostly hands. As George W. Bush once said, ‘by the time history gets around to judging, you are probably gone’. And then it will be: “hmm, Chamberlain? Didn’t he play for the Celtics?”  And in the unlikely event that the advocates of a catastrophically wasteful policy are still alive and kicking, they will plead that ultimate Leftist defense. ‘I meant well. I was idealistic. We were saving the world’.

Doing stuff can land you jail. Keeping people from doing stuff is mostly risk free. The Man in the Arena can either get bit or tame the lion. The Man in the Audience wins both ways.

A drug company may be held accountable for anyone who its products may harm. But nobody is held accountable for delays in the release of products that work.  The only ones who personally suffer are those patients who might have benefitted from the drug had it been available earlier.

Similarly, a fracker may be held individually liable for polluting groundwater.  But nobody in particular is responsible for natural gas not seeing the light of day.

The Green Movement is self-admittedly based on what it calls the “precautionary principle”. That says that even if we are not sure that man-made Global Warming exists, we dare not risk it. The consequences should it exist are so awful that we must behave as if the threat were true.  A guy who tells you that Freddy Krueger is lurking in your basement will never be liable for anything if you don’t go down the steps. It’s you who’ll forgo the beer that you stored in the closet.

Thus the world is now expending tens of billions and ultimately trillions of dollars in the name of that “precautionary principle”, which even revelations like Climategate1 and Climategate2 seem to do little to stop. And why should they? If there remains the slightest chance that the Doomsday Scenario may be true than they will argue we must prepare for it — or be Carbon Criminals.

But why should such advocates not, if history proves them wrong, not also be criminals?  Who do the people who pointlessly froze or baked in dreadful “zero-carbon” caves, or those who were terrified into not taking airplanes by a cause that failed, go to for recompense?

Nobody. Unless one is willing to leave matters to the Eternal Judge of Mankind.  As a practical matter, the only way that broken policies can be amended in our lifetimes is through the political process. If one believes that a properly regulated exploration of petroleum resources is possible, then the time to act politically is now. Not when China is partying over America’s decrepit hulk. Not later, when an environmentalist might scribble a mea culpa on a piece of recycled paper in carbon-free pencil in the depths of his zero-carbon home, but now.

The price of living in a democracy is the effort required to make a democracy work. Activity is required to keep the balance between those who are naturally inclined to tie other people up and those who are by nature inclined to keep the bonds off their bodies. Maybe politics is nothing more than a 24-hour wrestling match between someone who would pin you down, versus someone who would get off the floor. Therefore the question of whether China has an energy future while America does not, is of a political character. It’s a problem of “who decides”: the guys who want to tie other people up or the guys who want to get up and walk around. The Man in the Arena or the Man in the Audience?

As for justice … that is probably one big reason why man developed the notion of God, the idea of the Eternal Judge of Mankind. To provide something that is seemingly missing in the annals of the world.  As Voltaire once said, if God didn’t exist, we would have to invent him.  But even though most people are unlikely to see justice on this earth, many will settle for natural gas.

And just because free word association compels it, here’s Mason Williams performing that very important tune.


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