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Americans love their energy. It powers the many conveniences that make life so comfortable. It drives commerce, feeding an economic model based on never-ending growth. It fuels the autos that provide individual independence and underpin American suburbia.
But it comes at a cost, and not just financial.
The Gulf of Mexico confronts a slow-moving disaster. When the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling rig exploded and sank, killing 11, it damaged the well head. As of Friday, oil was escaping at an estimated 5,000 barrels a day, endangering wildlife sanctuaries along the barrier islands and coasts of the Gulf states.
Attempts to quickly repair the leak failed. By some estimates it could take three months to cap the well, raising the potential for an oil spill that could exceed the two largest and most damaging spills in the nation's history, the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska and the 1969 drilling accident off Santa Barbara, Calif.
The timing could not be worse for President Barack Obama who, to the consternation of many environmentalists in his own Democratic Party, had recently announced plans to expand offshore oil and gas drilling.
At the very least, a pause in that plan is in order until experts can fully assess what went wrong with the BP rig and what regulations will be necessary to prevent a repeat.
But spill or not, the nation's energy demand must be met. The alternative to finding new domestic sources of oil and natural gas is continuing and expanding the country's dependence on foreign oil. This practice drives up the trade deficit and results in the U.S. buying oil from nations that directly or indirectly support the terror groups that seek to attack us.
Off the coast of Cape Cod the demand for energy could result in an intrusion of a more benign nature. Many oceanside residents there are not happy that the federal government has approved plans for the Cape Wind project. The field of 130 wind-powered turbines, 440-feet high from base to blade tip, spread over 25 square miles of Nantucket Sound, would generate enough renewable electricity to supply the Cape and islands.
Wealthy property owners who don't want their views impinged will fight the plan in court.
The energy has to come from somewhere. Even with the best of conservation efforts, which are also vitally important, that fact will remain true. Domestic energy production comes with inherent risks and inconveniences. When even putting up with a renewable power source such as wind turbines is too much to ask, we have to wonder how serious the national commitment to reducing its foreign dependency is.