More energy misinformation from ex-Gov. du Pont


In a June 21 column, former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont (R) used misleading statistics to claim that the United States could dramatically increase its domestic production of oil and natural gas. In addition, du Pont praised nuclear power for creating "clean energy" because it does not produce carbon dioxide emissions. Less than a month ago, du Pont attacked "global warming alarmists" for blaming increased global temperatures on higher carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

Addressing America's dependence on imported oil in his June 21 column for, former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont (R-DE) repeated the misleading claim that the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) "contains 10 billion barrels of oil." In fact, this figure is based on an estimate that encompasses a larger area than Congress has considered for drilling and includes oil reserves that may not be economically worthwhile to recover. Du Pont also claimed that the "420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas on the Outer Continental Shelf ... amounts to a 19-year supply" for America. However, at current natural gas prices, less than half of that gas is considered economically recoverable. Finally, du Pont touted nuclear power as a "clean energy" source, noting that nuclear power plants "decrease by 700 million tons the CO2 released into our atmosphere each year," even though he recently mocked "global warming alarmists" for blaming increased global temperatures on higher carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

Regarding ANWR, du Pont wrote:

In 1995 Mr. Clinton vetoed a budget bill that would have allowed oil exploration and drilling in part of the Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Prudhoe Bay fields, just to the west of ANWR, have delivered 15 billion barrels of oil through the Alaska pipeline to the U.S. market without damage to Alaskan land, caribou or other wildlife. ANWR contains 10 billion barrels of oil, so Mr. Clinton's veto today is costing America about a million barrels of oil each day. Yet Congress has repeatedly defeated efforts to open ANWR to exploration.

As Media Matters for America has noted, the 10-billion-barrel figure du Pont cited comes from a 1998 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) assessment of oil reserves in the ANWR area. The USGS reported that 10.4 billion barrels was the average likely amount of "technically recoverable" oil for the entire surveyed region. However, the vetoed 1995 budget proposed authorizing oil development and production only in the "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 1002 Coastal Plain Area" -- the same 1.5-million-acre area the House and Senate have recently considered opening to drilling, which is smaller than what the USGS considered in its broader assessment. The USGS found this smaller region's average likely amount of "technically recoverable" oil to be 7.7 billion barrels -- not 10 billion.

On natural gas, du Pont wrote:

Offshore drilling for natural gas is another way. There are some 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. We currently consume about 23 trillion cubic feet per year, so that amounts to a 19-year supply. But the House last month voted 217-203 to block the opening of some Outer Continental Shelf areas to natural gas exploration and drilling.

The 420-trillion-cubic-foot number du Pont cited is from a 2006 estimate from the Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS). According to the MMS' "Assessment of Undiscovered Technically Recoverable Oil and Gas Resources of the Nation's Outer Continental Shelf, 2006," the Outer Continental Shelf contains an estimated 419.88 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. However, only a small fraction of that natural gas is considered to be economically recoverable. The price of natural gas (as of June 22) is about $6.50 per MMBtu (MMBtu = 1 million British Thermal Units, which equals approximately 1,000 cubic feet of gas). According to the MMS assessment (Figure 3, PDF Page 4), at $6.50 per 1,000 cubic feet, the amount of economically recoverable gas is approximately 200 trillion cubic feet -- less than half of the total thought to exist.

On nuclear power, du Pont wrote:

We could reduce our importation of, and "addiction" to, foreign oil in various ways.

Nuclear power is one. We have 104 nuclear power plants in operation in America that provide clean energy and decrease by 700 million tons the CO2 released into our atmosphere each year. But we have stopped building nuclear power plants: Construction of the last one began three decades ago. President Bush has proposed the Nuclear Power 2010 Initiative to facilitate plant construction. Sixteen companies have expressed interest, and 25 new nuclear plants are under consideration.

Du Pont touted reduced carbon dioxide emissions as a benefit of nuclear power. But in his May 23 column, he claimed that carbon dioxide "is not a pollutant -- indeed it is vital for plant growth," and ridiculed "global warming alarmists" for blaming "a great many evil things" on increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. As Media Matters noted at the time, du Pont's claim echoed a television commercial produced by the oil-industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

Posted In
Environment & Science, Drilling, Energy
Wall Street Journal
Pete du Pont
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