Either on the campaign trail or from the bully pulpit, every president since Richard Nixon has touted the economic benefits of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy.
For more than 30 years, our political leaders have been harping on the issue. And over the next 30 days, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will crisscross the country, telling everyone they meet about their plans to kick the habit once and for all.
Promising energy independence is as American as apple pie.
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But it's a damn hard promise to keep, in part because the people at the heart of the discussion send mixed or muddled messages. Opposing lobbyists and think tanks battle on Washington, DC's K Street while politicians attempt to pick winners on Capitol Hill. Talking heads affirm and eviscerate various solutions on TV while investors shudder with uncertainty in New York City. And John Q. Public, uncertain of what to make of the whole mess, sits tight, waiting for another candidate to come along and promise something he's not even sure is possible.
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For the industries that make up America's energy sector, this confusion begets a unique opportunity to communicate a position of leadership in solving the problem. The good news is there's plenty of room at the head of the pack.
A few facts about America's energy portfolio:
- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reports our combined on and offshore wind resource potential is 14.6 million megawatts. This is enough energy to power as many as 4.4 billion homes year-round, using statistics from the American Wind Energy Association.
- According to Enerdata, at approximately 620 billion cubic feet per year, we are vying with Russia to become the world's largest producer of natural gas.
- Harold Hamm, founder of Continental Resources, claims the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota holds an estimated 24 billion barrels of oil, making it the third-largest oil field on the planet and the largest outside the Middle East.
- Information pulled from NREL also indicates urban and rural utility scale photovoltaic (PV), rooftop PV and concentrated solar power plants could provide a combined 400, 000 terawatt (TWh) hours per year, 100 times our current consumption rate.
- Most of the coal used in the United States is domestically produced.
As a country, we must stop demonizing certain modalities of energy and adopt an "all of the above" approach. As communicators, we must become masters at telling the most compelling American story of our time — that energy independence is not only a possibility, but a probability.